The Painted Forest

WEST VIRGINIA UNIVERSITY PRESS, OCTOBER 2019

In this often-surprising book of essays, Krista Eastman explores the myths we make about who we are and where we’re from. The Painted Forestuncovers strange and little-known “home places”—not only the picturesque hills and valleys of the author’s childhood in rural Wisconsin, but also tourist towns, the “under-imagined and overly caricatured” Midwest, and a far-flung station in Antarctica where the filmmaker Werner Herzog makes an unexpected appearance.

The Painted Forest upends easy narratives of place, embracing tentativeness and erasing boundaries. But it is Eastman’s willingness to play—to follow her curiosity down every odd path, to exude a skeptical wonder—that gives this book depth and distinction. An unlikely array of people, places, and texts meet for close conversation, and tension is diffused with art, imagination, and a strong sense of there being some other way forward. Eastman offers a smart and contemporary take on how we wander and how we belong.

From Publishers Weekly: “Eastman’s deep fascination with and love of her home state, in all its complexity and eccentricity, permeate this moving book and will live on in the reader’s mind.” Read the full review here.

Named one of the best literary nonfiction debuts of 2019 by Poets & Writers.

The Painted Forest is a singular and visionary portrait of the Midwest, one that defies familiar caricatures of the region. Eastman puts rural towns and hamlets too often dismissed as ‘nowhere’ definitively on the map, and reveals that they are far more uncanny, complex, and bizarre than our wildest imaginings.

In this shimmering collection, Krista Eastman blends imagined scene with researched fact to bring us fresh visions of places we thought we knew. From examinations of home to ‘laughter from nowhere,’ from the Wisconsin Dells to Antarctica’s McMurdo Station, from an itinerant painter’s elliptical masterwork to gestation’s feral undertow, Eastman casts a spell that renders us ‘still captive to the mystery in distance, still loyal to the pledge found in story.’

The Painted Forest is a surprising and tender book in which a reader might be reminded of the considered natural observations of Annie Dillard, the unrelenting gaze of Lia Purpura, or the masterful storytelling of Jo Ann Beard. Eastman is interested in interrogating the history and ethos of several specific places, including her own home state of Wisconsin, as well as elegantly demonstrating the ways in which landscapes shift and morph through generations and recall.