Beloit College professor pens book on struggles Midwesterners face

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BELOIT - Do you want to flee your hometown yet feel out of place among the urbane? Do you dream of free tickets to a Cubs game and then grouse at the parking fees?

If you are a tortured soul suffering and subsequently laughing at the human condition, "Add This to the List of Things That You Are" might be the book for you.

Local author, Beloit College English Professor and editor of the "Beloit Fiction Journal" Chris Fink explained how his book is filled with "deplorable" characters, not necessarily people you'd want to have lunch or coffee with but who make for good literary fiction by their conflicts both internal and farmside.

It's the second book for Fink, following "Farmer's Almanac." No, his first book was not about phases of the moon or when to plant strawberries, but more about rural characters who find themselves in urban and unfamiliar circumstances. It's about authentic Midwesterners with a lot of conflicts under their seemingly sunny exterior.

"It's not Garrison Keillor, which surprises some people," Fink said.

"Add This to the List of Things That You Are" is a collection of short stories on mostly Midwestern characters suffering either in silence or occasionally through the challenges of their lives, and somethings in close proximity to their mother's couch.

"There is a rootlessness and feeling out of place leads people to do things they normally wouldn't do," Fink said. "There's different bad behavior in each story."

While the stories are fictional, they are inspired from some of the jaunts through Fink's push and pull relationship with the Midwest and characters he encountered and empathized with. Because of an uneasiness of place, former journalist Fink said he's sometimes paid close attention to his surroundings. Fink grew up in northern Illinois near DeKalb. He graduated from Boylan Catholic High School in Rockford and attended Augustana College. After working two years at the Monroe Times, he attended graduate school at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee for English and creative writing. He taught several years at San Jose State University before coming to Beloit.

With his writing career, he's been a frequent commentator on Midwestern literature, conceding that sometimes Midwesterners ignore their own.

"In publishing the Midwest is a flyover place. Few books are published by Midwesterners about Midwestern characters," he said.

Fink hopes to paint an honest, compelling and humorous look at the struggles of a sometimes overlooked people.

While some of the stories in "Add This to the List of Things That You Are" include alcoholism and violence, some of them are just the self-doubting jaunts of active Midwestern minds cultivated during long winters.

In the Chapter titled "Cubness," it talks about the realistic side of going to the big game.

"We can actually picture the twenties peeling off like that and our rolls diminished. It makes us sick to think that we'll act bigger than we are, and that we'll come home poorer than we were," Fink writes.

The first and last stories of Fink's latest book features Timothy, a teacher and photographer, who feels trapped in a small town yet feels out of place in Milwaukee. While redemption might be a little too easy for a Fink character, he said Timothy and many of his characters ends up in a good place - or at least a different place - after their compelling conflicts.

In his shortest chapter, he speaks about a man who can't face the lovely cabin he shared with his beloved. He has some encounters with a few non-beloveds, goes back home and then to Russia and nurses a few self-destructive habits along the way until his character finally acknowledges his condition.

"Admit you have become one of those who keeps a locked room he can never enter. Add this to the list of things that you are."

"Add This to the List of Things That You Are" will come out Sept. 1. It's published by the University of Wisconsin Press. Fink will be giving a reading in Beloit as well as in Chicago and New York.

Fink lives near Afton with his wife, Breja Fink, a teacher at Beloit Memorial High School, and his daughter, Iris, who attends Todd Elementary School.

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