The prose vignettes in Iowa narrate the haze of a complex adolescent landscape in the voice of someone who has much to say but only the fragmented language of youth's incohesion to say it. The syntactical shifts feel secretive, at times frustrating, with recurring characters, objects, themes (a stepfather, alcohol, a house, sleep, abandonment) existing like landmarks on a map of the speaker's experience. In one of the vignettes, Nichols writes:
His thin story happened then while coat and pant cuffs flapped around a step-father and half sister. The memories true or not against him seem to be turning to steam, as I turned, all the while thinking of chewing out alone eventually through the ghostly meats.
Iowa is a difficult work in that, as in adolescence, the payoff for experiencing the repetition and accrual of so many loaded experiences is often nothing more than emerging from that place having gone through the pain and confusion of a rite of passage. Iowa, similarly, doesn't leave readers unscathed. Nichols has written a fascinating and provocative collection.
This book review originally appeared in American Poets, fall 2010, issue 39.