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The Painted Forest


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 Forest uncovers 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.

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


OUtstanding achievement award
from the wisconsin library association

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.

From Zyzzyva: “The Painted Forest proves Eastman to be thoroughly acquainted with the world in which she lives; insatiably curious, she renders people and places in exquisite, elaborate detail.” Read the full review here.

From Rain Taxi: “Gorgeously written and meticulously researched, it would be perfect for lovers of creative nonfiction—especially those with an affinity for nature writing and ecocriticism. . . . A continuing tour led by a bright, fascinating guide who reminds us that adventure is born from the possibility of self-discovery.”

Read an interview with the author here.

Or listen to this interview from Wisconsin Public Radio.

There might be a lot of Wisconsin and a bunch of the Midwest in this book, but make no mistake it is a deft dissection of “Place” itself and the various ways we project and set dress the world around us in order to feel at “Home,” quieting our self-conscious, earth-quaking fears as we inhabit the alien regions of this world. These compelling essays attempt brilliantly to unmask us and turn our disguises transparent. Think of The Painted Forest then as the essential reference book of Midwestern drag, showing us that camouflage does not conceal but does, in fact, reveal and is our fancy dress, our formal wear.

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.

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.