County Seat is the last novel of the highly acclaimed “Mantz trilogy” by Paul Frederick Corey. Together with Three Miles Square and The Road Returns, Corey provided a fictional account of early twentieth century rural farming life in an Iowa neighborhood contained within three square miles. Contemporary intellectuals, such as Lewis Mumford and Louis Bromfield, praised Corey for his sociological accuracy and for his first-rate story-telling. In fact, all three books received positive reviews in multiple outlets from one end of the country to the other.
Although it has only relatively recently become apparent, the diminution of small towns and county seats, like Corey’s fictional Elm, has eased the gradual erosion of democracy in the United States, and the corresponding triumph of corporate will. Farmers like Otto Mantz and Ed Crosby fought against corporate power and for policy that would promote owner-operated farms flanked by small towns with thriving businesses. As early as the 1930s, when Otto Mantz returned from his office job in Chicago to ask his mother if he might rent the family farm, he explained to his disappointed mother that he believed “the greatest problem in the country today is farming—it’s a problem that must be solved.” This is only more true today, as agricultural policy is now written by agribusiness lobbyists and handed to compliant politicians who know nothing of farming. Indeed, our arsenal in the struggle to “resettle America” is deeply handicapped by the loss of America’s finest rural literature of which the Mantz trilogy is a part.
(from the Introduction by Paul Theobald)