My mother had urged me back to the state’s glacier-flattened center, where I grew up, at this time of year. There would be no corn or soybeans yet to ripple endlessly like an ocean, but she appreciated March’s stark earth and sky. I lived out East now, and it had been months since I could watch a sunset’s full reach from horizon to horizon. I remembered what Wallace, a central Illinois native, had told family after he left for Amherst College in Massachusetts. The Berkshires were pretty, he wrote, but not beautiful “the way Illinois is.”
Finding beauty and nuance in a landscape others might dismiss as nothingness was part of what has made Wallace, who took his own life, a postmodern American classic. Like the actor John Malkovich, who also grew up quirky in downstate Illinois, he represents both high and pop culture.