This is a book of stories about a North Dakota town before the oil boom changed everything, about the virtues displayed in the place the author grew up. This may not seem like much of a promising premise for a memoir, but the book is surprising, inspiring, deeply personal—and a page-turner.
Edwards grew up in Stanley, North Dakota, one county south of the Canadian border and smack dab in the Bakken oil deposits that transformed western North Dakota in the past few years into an overpopulated, industrialized, polluted area with all the ills of a fast-moving oil boom that now seems to be dying down. This is all covered in the introductory chapter in which the old and new Stanleys are contrasted.
The heart of the story of Old Stanley is in a series of eight virtues inherent in a small Great Plains farming community that are illustrated with the lives and actions of the town’s inhabitants. The stories are unique to Stanley but similar to the history and culture of many such places on the Plains. Each virtue has its own main characters and stories, often daunting and all providing their own kind of heroes.
The virtues are resoluteness, steadfastness, devotion to community, pluck, commitment, dauntless optimism, spirit of adventure and modesty. That residents of a small North Dakota town can so supremely exemplify these universal qualities of hope and life is a tribute to Plains culture in America.
Richard Edwards is the director of the Center for Great Plains Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a longtime professor of economics with a Ph.D. from Harvard and has served as chairman of the Economics Department at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Find Natives of a Dry Place: Stories of Dakota before the Oil Boom at sdhspress.com for $16.95, plus shipping and handling.