Pamela Carter Joern
"After the leaves have fallen, we return
To a plain sense of things."  -- Wallace Stevens
The Plain Sense of Things
Midwest Booksellers Association
Connections Pick
Image by Dawn Villella
Set in the panhandle of Nebraska, The Plain Sense of Things
follows the Preston family through three generations and
over half of the 20th century. The book opens in 1930 with
a stoic grandfather who brings his grandson home after the
boy’s mother dies. Subsequent chapters unfold through the
eyes of other family members: a widow learns about life
while working in a W. W. II munitions plant; a boy loses his
childhood too soon; a poet-farmer sets his dreams against
reality; a young wife is thrust into the breadwinner role. At
the heart of the book stand Jake and Alice, a seemingly
mismatched couple who cling to family loyalty and a fierce
love, despite dealing with loss and surprising changes: the
Great Depression, W. W. II, the killing spree of Charles
Starkweather, the resignation of Richard Nixon. Against
turbulent times within and without, the Prestons remain
inured to hardship, defiantly resilient, and guided by a deeply
rooted moral integrity. They are people of the land, and with
every sunrise, they renew their hope.
Book Launch Party
“There is a lovely solemnity to the lives of these characters—a hardness that Joern knows is
alloyed with an abiding tenderness. That undercurrent is carried along in deceptively simple
prose, writing that is stunningly clear.”
--Jane Hamilton, author of
The Book of Ruth and A Map of the World
“A moving family saga full of memorable characters whose struggles to survive the hardships of
rural Nebraska life will haunt the reader.”
--Jonis Agee, author of
The River Wife
“Pam Joern works her quiet, penetrating magic to tell a deeply moving story of endurance and
family love and loyalty.
The Plain Sense of Things is a novel with a capacious heart. Joern
depicts a hardscrabble Midwestern world whose simplicity and starkness are deceiving. Her
characters are complex, passionate, memorable. We grow to love them because Joern loves
them, and this is clear in how beautifully and quietly she listens to their lives and their silences.”
--Julia Alvarez, author of
In the Time of the Butterflies
Reviews and Comments
"Set against the backdrop of the Nebraska prairie, Joern's powerful
second offering follows three generations as they navigate the greater part
of the 20th century. In 1930, Gramp comes to collect five-year-old Billy
after his mother dies. This stoic beginning sets the tone for the rest of the
novel as characters endure poverty, illness and betrayal. Subsequent
generations share storytelling duties; there's Jake, Gramp's son, now a
hardworking farmer with "bottom teeth toppled together like gravestones
in a country churchyard"; Alice, his young wife who stands by him
through endless hardship; and their children Stevie, Frank and Molly, all
of whom leave rural life behind. Evocative prose elevates Joern's excellent
portrayal of the family's evolution and brings a warmth and richness to a
stark landscape."
Publishers Weekly, June, 2008
“Pamela Joern's second novel, like her first, is about family and is set in Nebraska: The Plain
Sense of Things
is spare, generational, filled with to-the-bone experiences .  .  . amazing, a good
read, great for discussion.”
--Glenda Martin,
BookWomen, September 2008
In this "novel in stories," Joern  gives us a portrait of a rural Nebraska family from 1930
through 1979. . . .Joern is particularly adept at drawing characters with deep, unfulfilled
contend with the challenges of hard work and poverty. . . .As we follow the family through the
Great Depression, World War II, and the postwar boom that benefits only some of the family
members, we see the changing American attitudes about marriage, work, and family.
Library Journal
“The clarity and honesty of Joern’s prose impart a quiet intensity to this novel about a family
enduring a hardscrabble existence in western Nebraska. Shaped by place and by each other,
strong, flawed characters struggle through love and pain to create rich and dignified lives well
worthy of our attention.”
-- Tripp Ryder, Carleton College Bookstore, Northfield, MN
Tonight we’re gathering to celebrate the publication of Pam’s beautiful
new novel-in-stories,
The Plain Sense of Things. The plain sense of her
artist’s vision. Set in the panhandle of Nebraska, the book chronicles
multiple generations of an extended family that loves deeply, struggles
mightily, and relies on a hard earned faith in order to survive. It is a book
about loyalty and integrity, about honor and loss. More than a Nebraska
story, it is an American story and I believe many readers will find their
own people, their own family history documented within these pages.
We read of Pam’s people and we remember our own.

The Plain Sense of Things reminds us how many lives unfold in small
shacks, how days are lost to field work, how even the smallest of
dreams really can exceed our reach. It’s a book that questions the
American myth of self-determination, that asks the reader to consider the
ways in which legacy and land and society and economy and
opportunity realistically shape the lives we make for ourselves. This is
not a world where anything can happen—it is a world where things
happen—and somehow we do what we can to survive.

I have had the privilege of watching this book unfold through many
forms, over many years, of witnessing Pam’s devotion to getting this
story right. I have always believed it would be published and I am
delighted to hold it in my hands. It’s work that matters deeply to the
writer, and by extension it’s work that matters deeply to the reader. We
will hold on to these folks, their small joys and their large sorrows, their
integrity and faith, long after we’ve pressed the book into another
reader's hand. It’s just that good.
--Sheila O’Connor; remarks made at the launch party for
The Plain
Sense of Things
“Pamela Carter Joern’s clear, precise prose reveals the bonds of hope and heartbreak, need and
often inarticulate love that tie these family members to each other in both life and death. From
1930 to 1979, these haunting stories show us a grandfather’s journey to bring home the child of
an estranged daughter; a farm wife’s struggle to raise her children alone; girls and boys growing
to womanhood and manhood in the World War II years; the waning life of a husband and father;
and a sister and brothers silently reaffirming their ties as they stand together under the Nebraska
night sky. Joern hones her place and characters to their essence, giving them a quiet powerful
intensity that compels you to remember and ponder them long after you finish [the book]. . .
These stories express so precisely the connections of family, land and home that resonate within
all of us.”  
--Susan Walker,
St. Paul Pioneer Press
“We Read to Develop our Compassion” – Southwest Journal
The Plain Sense of Things, Minneapolis resident Pamela Carter Joern’s second book, marks her
arrival as a significant Midwestern writer. Joern’s particular gift is for chronicling the ways the
heart weathers chronic hardship. . . Joern has a gift for illuminating a character’s inner life
without speaking overmuch of it. She adeptly mixes past and present tense, effectively linking
past and present, story and memory.”
--Pamela Miller,
Minneapolis Star-Tribune        'Plain Sense' gets to the heart of living
“’People who have devoted their lives to the land, even those who have been ruined by it, have a
kind of integrity that is not often written about in modern fiction.’ That’s Pamela Carter Joern
talking about the characters in her widely praised new book,
The Plain Sense of Things. . . ”
--Mary Ann Grossmann, St.
Paul Pioneer Press   Joern plows her love of the land into her
“In Aug. 2007 I wrote in the Minnesota Women's Press about The Floor of the Sky and in the
Aug.-Sep. issue of
BookWomen I wrote about her second novel, The Plain Sense of Things.
Each is set in Nebraska and is about farm families who are connected to and shaped by the land.
. . I will just urge you to get them, read them, discuss them. . .It was a joy to talk with Pamela
Carter Joern. Immerse yourself in her novels and discover the truth she writes about.”
--Glenda Martin,
Minnesota Women's Press, January, 2009   Truth in fiction
“Joern explores the aloneness of the individual and the importance of those rare moments when
human beings escape from the clutches of fear and painful memory in order to respond to the
immediate need for human connection.”  
--David Maynard,
The Corresponder        The Plain Sense of Things review        
"No guessing on my part: Pamela Carter Joern's "Flyover Fiction" novel, The Plain Sense of
, is a real gem, maybe even a gem-and-a-half."
--Barbara Rixtine,
Lincoln Journal Star        
The Plain Sense of Things is a book about losses, little deaths that wear away at people and at
families, but these little deaths aren’t the real story. What is the real story is how people handle
these little deaths with some kind of perpetual hope and resilience, a sense that having someone
to care for, to come back to, to hurt with, gives all failures and “little deaths” meaning. . . The
“plain” sense is that land and life and people are worth the risk, the hard times, because in the
end, what arises is beautiful.”
--Diane Drake,
North Dakota Quarterly                Complete Review