‘Butter’ captures the small-town flavor of the 1970s

At 46, I sort of dread shopping. I hate the long drive to any store worth visiting, the enormous parking lots with accidents hiding behind every sight-line-blocking minivan, the other shoppers who don’t get out of my way and the underpaid, impatient clerks.

OK, not all the other shoppers are rude and not all the clerks are uncaring, but I hope you understand my point: Modern-day shopping in the suburbs lacks joy.

But it wasn’t that way 30 years ago. Back when kids walked to school uphill both ways, malls were special and rare. Teenagers like me who grew up in small Midwestern towns shopped on Main Street where local merchants owned and operated the stores. In Wadena, where I grew up, there were stores like Zosel’s Hardware, Brink’s Jewelry and Krause Drug.

Ah, Krause Drug, a sprawling pharmacy and gift shop offering everything from crystal candlesticks and greeting cards to aspirin and nail polish. I remember a lot of 1 p.m. Saturday afternoon dates with my girlfriends when we walked downtown (yes, walked), window shopped and coveted the Maybelline makeup near the counter at Krause Drug.

butterThat’s just one of the reasons I enjoyed reading author Anne Panning’s novel “Butter.” She gets the details right. Set in small-town Minnesota in the 1970s, Panning’s novel is a love note to little towns growing up – or dying – amidst the corn fields of a different time. The coming-of-age story is about Iris, an 11-year-old whose parents’ marriage is disintegrating. You will fall in love with Iris even if you don’t love the story, described by some reviewers as “disquieting.” Here’s an excerpt:

Sylvie and I celebrated by hanging around downtown and taking our time browsing through all the stores. We looked at colored pens on strings with scented ink at Walt’s Drugstore. We checked out the barrettes and Slinkys at Ben Franklin, and bought big full-size Charleston Chews, strawberry and chocolate. We even took our shoes off on the walk home and felt the warm grainy sidewalk so nice under our bare feet.

Iris’ father runs a creamery, and Panning writes about full-fat milk products with beauty and reverence, thus the title “Butter.” Like his marriage, Iris’ father’s creamery is losing traction as convenience stores with names like “Stop & Go” gain popularity (“My father never liked it when people called it a store. It always had to be the creamery. A store was there you bought dog food and toilet paper, he used to say”).

Like the small town in which it’s set, the story doesn’t stretch too far. There are no vampires or doomsday scenarios, but Panning successfully captures the warmth of family and the sorrow of losing it. Anyone who enjoys fiction would love it, but especially readers who know anything about small towns, Minnesota or the ’70s.

More about “Butter”:

  • I appreciated Panning’s handling of adoption and family so much, I’m guest blogging about it today on author Laura Dennis’ blog “The Adaptable (Adopted) Ex-Pat Mommy.” Check that out here.
  • And, while I’m tackling a manuscript about the year I turned 15, I’m writing about the voice of young narrators on my author blog here.

3 responses to “‘Butter’ captures the small-town flavor of the 1970s

  1. I love when novels let us immerse ourselves in the setting, giving us a feel for what it’s like to live there. I’m so happy that you stopped by my blog today, too!

    • Thanks for the invitation, Laura! Your perspective from Serbia (literally) broadens my world. By the way, my husband recently got an invitation from a friend to visit Croatia. What do you think of that?

  2. Sounds like a great read!

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