Jerome Bahr’s stories of stark small-town life with hard-drinking morality and innocent desperation capture the moody weather and seasonal sullenness that overcast the Wisconsin consciousness.
Jerome Bahr was born under that cloud in Arcadia, Wisconsin, around 1909, and he studied at the University of Minnesota before working at several Midwest newspapers.
Bahr later moved to New York, and his first book, “All Good Americans,” appeared in 1937 when Earnest Hemingway introduced him to the American reading public.
Wisconsin Tales was published in 1964, but some of the stories first appeared in The New Yorker, Mademoiselle, Woman’s Day, and Story Parade.
The characters in Wisconsin Tales show both the self-destructiveness of their behavior and the quiet fortitude of the landscape that surrounds them.
In “And the Fishes Were Beautiful,” a drunken fury leads a man to drag a woman to the edge. “The Grudge” shows how anger can eat away our sorrow. The subtleties of racism in the North are explored in Ebony Intermezzo.
Jerome Bahr may have left the Midwest for New York City, but his heart still lived in the hills of Wisconsin, and his writing always reflected the will of Wisconsin’s people.
This will is reflected in this passage from “The Grudge”:
August stared out the window. The sun had begun its descent, offering surcease to the baking hillside; and along the banks of the river, tree-shadows spread and cooled the shallow stream. The entire countryside was relaxing. Only August, grim and determined, seemed to oppose the day’s decline…
Stories in Wisconsin Tales include:
And the Fishes Were Beautiful
Whisper in the Night
The Word Passer
The Baker’s Triumph
Jerome Bahr’s Wisconsin Tales was published by Trempealeau Press in Baltimore, Maryland.
In Wisconsin Tales, Jerome Bahr speaks of what is small-town in us all, our dreams to expand, and the struggle between who we want to be and what we become.
Review by The MAG Zine.