Possum Trot

Midwest Booksellers Association Midwest Connections Pick

The pieces in this collection form a lament for a way of life mostly gone. “The family farm is dead. Did you know?” says one character within. “E.B. White writes Charlotte’s Web today, it takes place in a hog confinement. Imagine Wilbur living in a concentration camp for pigs.” Still, these pieces are neither nostalgic nor sentimental. Boys bear burdens heavier than is just—they discover truths at too early an age. Woven through-out is the strong, unspoken love between fathers and sons, sons and fathers. But perhaps these pieces, this Possum Trot, form not a lament, but a celebration of life. There is laughter here, the laughter that comes after the funeral, when the family is gathered in the home, the casseroles have been eaten and the boys are playing catch in their church clothes. The men have taken off their jackets and rolled their sleeves, and the women are pouring coffee. “Do you remember when…?” someone says. They do remember, and they laugh. There are tears in their eyes because one of the family is missing. But those tears are mixed with tears of laughter, because look around you. Here we all are. Still here. Alive and kicking.

“Wickedly funny, the stories expose the prairie imposter’s comfortable nostalgia. At the same time, they evince enormous affection for a passing way of life. Take note, literary readers. Possum Trot is a fabulous book.”—Ralph Savarese, author, Reasonable People: A Memoir of Autism and Adoption

“Darn good writing: word-smart, heartfelt, compassionate, and witty. Always true to the Iowa earth and the quirky, star-gazing folks who cajole it to bloom, worship in its barns, and strum their songs to the vaulted sky.”—David Campbell, author & Lannan Literary Award winner, A Land of Ghosts: The Braided Lives of People and the Forest in Far Western Amazonia

“Harley McIlrath’s Possum Trot never plays dead. His stories dance to the true-side of good Midwest living!”—Mary Swander, Iowa Poet Laureate

“J. Harley McIlrath knows the landscape, physical and emotional, of the family farm and the small town. But these finely sculpted stories tap into the essence of a broader, wider country. These stories tap into what’s real in all of us.”—Steven Horwitz, editor, Twin Cities Noir and Amplified

“Harley McIlrath’s new stories are as wicked and disarming as prose by H. L. Mencken but with an added twist: they show how hope for the discouraged can be found in places no sane person would go. This is a humorous, biting, rattling collection of stories that promises to become an instant classic.”—Stephen Kuusisto, author, Planet of the Blind

“Iowa is fertile ground for writers… Add to that illustrious and blessed list of native sons, J. Harley McIlrath, an author who knows the soil and the toil of craft become art. Possum Trot is a bountiful harvest of delights, true to the rhythms of nature, of home, and of the human heart.—Robert F. Gish, author, West Bound: Stories of Providence

“These are compelling stories by a gifted Iowa writer intimately in touch with the language, humor and emotional currents of life’s ironies. Possum Trot is a warm and beautiful book.”—Loree Rackstraw, author, Love as Always, Kurt; Vonnegut as I Knew Him

“Possum Trot is as Americana as the National Resonator guitars the title story is based on.” —Joe Price, Iowa Blues Hall of Fame, and Independent Music Award Winner

“Fiction that reads like memoir, each piece capturing the essence of places, people, time, and emotions. Readers will know these people and want more.”—Carol Bodensteiner, author, Growing Up Country: Memories of an Iowa Farm Girl

“These are strong stories that capture the humor, the reward and the darkness of late 20th century midwestern rural life. It’s easy to sense that Harley McIlrath grew up very near the hayfields and small towns of these tales. His realistic but warm fiction brightens for me the dreariness of today’s now endless corn and soybean landscape. These stories are what I’d call moonbeams on a lively little pasture creek.”—Timothy Fay, editor, Wapsipinicon Almanac

“Possum Trot is one of the sweetest, most refreshing glasses of strychnine-laced prose you’re likely to drink all year. At once elegiac and acerbic, it presents an Iowa full of affecting characters presented as they should be, with love and severity. McIlrath’s debut is an entertaining, timeless book that can and should be consumed in one sitting.”—Josh Emmons, author, The Loss of Leon Meed

“J. Harley McIlrath’s short stories and essays remind us of a time when we still did much of our farm work by hand, and we still used tractors and cultivators instead of poison. McIlrath writes with precision and energy. You won’t find any covered bridges or lonely farmwives in Possum Trot, but the reader may want to learn why Danny Weaver and an unnamed girl parked along a dirt road on a hot afternoon. There’s real sweat in this book, and it never smelled so good.”—Patrick Irelan, author, Central Standard

“Let me put this book in your hands. There’s a read-out-loud beauty to the stark vernacular of McIlrath’s hard-bitten stories. Ribald, poignant, elegiac: they are about farm communities in the Midwest and a way of life that we know exists but fear is vanishing. Please, take it. You’ll love it.”—Joseph G. Peterson, author, Beautiful Piece

Minneapolis Star-Tribune