BEST BOOK BY A LOCAL AUTHOR - 2000
Jonis Agee has a thing for cars. Though her passion for NASCAR races may not be widely shared at the College of St. Catherine, where she teaches, her story collection of last year, Taking the Wall (on local Coffee House Press), provided an opportunity to examine the drivers and pit crews dotting the hardscrabble towns of America. There isn't much money left over after spending on cars and going to races, but most of these families get by somehow. The first story, "Good to Go," concerns a daughter who tells of helping her mother run away with the UPS man while the rest of the family is off watching the demolition derby. "I helped her pack that night," the daughter recalls. "Maybe that was wrong of me, but I personally wrapped the pressed-glass swan vase she got from her Ozarks grandmother. I was afraid she'd be in such a hurry she'd forget it or not take enough care packing it, and I couldn't bear the picture of her standing there later with the pieces in her hands, knowing she'd lost something precious forever, something she could never ever make up or come back to." Later the UPS man's Camaro is found mangled on the road. Both of the passengers were killed. The daughter, now in charge of the family salvage business, is left selling off cars on the crowded lot. But she won't sell the Camaro. While the literature of auto racing may not yet match that of, say, baseball, with stories like these, Agee has staked a convincing claim to poet laureate of the racing oval.