Skip Navigation
Regional News

Book Review: "Out of the Blue, Blueline Essays 1979-1989"

Listen to this story
Is there such a thing as a literature of the Adirondacks? Alice Wolf Gilborn explored this idea in her essays in Blueline, a literary periodical she founded and edited in the 1980s. Our book reviewer, Betsy Kepes, read her new collection: Out of the Blue, Blueline Essays 1979-1989.

Hear this

Download audio

Share this

Explore this

Reported by

Betsy Kepes
Book Reviewer

Alice Gilborn’s book of essays is pocket-sized, and less than one hundred pages. It’s like a condensed book, in a good way. In her eighteen short essays she covers lots of ground—from a meditation about Adirondack porches to a rant about the disintegration of the English language.

All the essays appeared in the Blueline, a periodical that Gilborn started with her  students  in 1979. She writes: “We had a vague idea that an unmined vein of Adirondack literature existed if we could only tap it. We didn’t find it ready-made, but we began to create it simply because we existed.” In the ten years that Gilborn edited Blueline it went from a stapled together project into a nationally-known literary periodical.

As editor, Gilborn had the freedom to wander in her bi-annual essay. Her writing is fresh and poetic and often funny. In an essay about the drudgery of waiting in her car when the road was re-constructed in the village of Blue Mountain Lake she writes, “ the road, new as a peeled snake, will wear on its back a fresh yellow stripe.”  In another essay she admits that she’s “ as out of place in the woods as a deer is in my living room.”

Still, she admires long-distance canoeists and 46ers and the heavily-laden backpackers she sees in the summers.  At trailheads, she writes, “Sometimes one overturns and lies stranded in the road.”

My favorite two essays are about Jeanne Robert Foster, woman who grew up in the Adirondacks in Johnsburg in the 1880’s, daughter of a lumberjack. A great beauty, she married a businessman at age 16 and moved to Rochester and then New York City where she worked as a model and muse to many of the great writers and artists of the day. She was also a writer and a poet and Gilborn includes lines from Foster’s Adirondack poems, works that Gilborn believes truly capture a sense of place and character. Here are a few lines from a poem about Farmer Ezra Brown:

He cleared all his land and set out fruit trees
Worsted nature until she was humble
And he could not feel her strong sullenness
Holding out against his crops and pastures.

Another writer captured Gilborn’s attention. In 1979 the novelist John Gardner arrived on his motorcycle to spend a couple of weeks at Blue Mountain Lake and Gilborn writes a somewhat awestricken essay about living near the great writer.  She writes, “One morning, I loaded the books by him I owned into a grocery bag and lugged them up to his camp for him to autograph. As I drew near I could hear the clatter of his typewriter bouncing off the mountain, the sound magnified by the clear air. For a moment I wondered how his literary landscape compared to the one outside his window.”

Not all of Gilborn’s essays are completely successful, and the one short story in this collection could have been edited out, but most of Gilborn’s writing is a pleasure to read. I’ll give her the last word. She writes: “As readers we can realize the tremendous power of language to refresh the spirit, just as the Adirondacks have refreshed the spirits of so many who have come here.”

Visitor comments


NCPR is supported by:

This is a Visitor-Supported website.