Love & Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere

Poe Ballantine

Love & Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere
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Love & Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere

Poe Ballantine

At age forty six years US author Poe Ballantine ends his nomadic lifestyle and brings his beautiful wife from Mexico to Chadron, Nebraska, and becomes a father to a son who may be autistic. His neighbor, a math professor at Chadron State College, disappears and three months later is found burned to death and tied to a tree in the woods.

What happened to him? Was it murder? Suicide? Poe and a cast of memorable characters from Chadron aim to find out.

Review

Poe Ballantine’s new memoir is a fascinating book on many levels. At its bare bones it is a story about failure – personal and professional – and the myriad ways people adapt to this very human condition. Ballantine’s marriage to a beautiful Mexican woman is fraught with miscommunication and attendant conflicts.

Their delightfully curious son is allegedly autistic, money is in seriously short supply, and the author is struggling with a new book he does not quite believe in. The setting is Chadron, a small town on the High Plains of Nebraska, a spectral landscape hewn by brutal winters and summer wildfires. It’s a place where everyone knows everyone, somewhere people go to disappear – and sometimes disappear from.

So when a local physics professor goes missing, conventional wisdom has the slightly odd academic simply going off the grid. The professor turns up 95 days later, bound to a tree and burnt beyond recognition, and Ballantine finds the book he is searching for. As America’s media find sudden delight in nowhere Nebraska, Ballantine becomes the natural repository for a story in which no one is spared – police, friends, colleagues, psychics, ghost-hunters – not least the author, whose lowly economic status is so irreconcilable with his wife’s expectations of life in America that his work as a writer stands as no more than the feckless trifling of an inveterate layabout.

This is a wonderful book: funny, evocative, with absorbing quotidian details and wry asides on the nature of existence. It is not a book full of answers, rather it asks and ponders the most fundamental of questions: What the hell are we doing? Poe Ballantine is not presently well known in Australia, but with Love & Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere, I have no doubt that will change.


Robbie Egan is the Manager at Readings Carlton.

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