“Always Raining Somewhere, Said Jim Johnson” by John Edgar Wideman is a story that revisits a writer’s experience at the Iowa Writing Workshop. Fiction? Nonfiction? It doesn’t matter. While Wideman grounds the writing deep into the pastureland of Iowa, it seems like the land is plowed and planted with row after row of sentimentality. If Wideman was a football player, this would be a story about the good old days of his rookie season and all the times he had. Instead, the story follows a thinly veiled Wideman and two friends from the writing program as they drink and bullshit. That doesn’t necessarily sound interesting. Now, imagine a sentimentalized story about three young writers drinking and bullshitting. See where this is going?
Wideman does do a good job capturing the Midwest, but even then it’s the Midwest as seen through years of memories. It’s a Midwest that doesn’t exist anymore, and maybe never did. Read this story as a tale of what sentimentality can do to your work. I’m sure you’ve been warned away by other writers. Unsure of what we’re talking about, then study “Always Raining Somewhere, Said Jim Johnson.”