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October 7, 2009

MC Book Club: A Country Called Home by Kim Barnes

This month, the MC Book Club follows one couple's ill-advised attempt to go country in Kim Barnes' A Country Called Home. Worth your precious discretionary dollar? Read on...

Last month's Book Club: Air, by G. Willow Wilson.

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THE PLOT: It's 1960 and Thomas and Helen Deracotte have just escaped their highfalutin Connecticut roots for the simple life on an Idaho farm. But despite their fantasy of eating wild trout and canning their own preserves, the newlywed dilettantes know nothing about tending crops or rebuilding their dilapidated farmhouse. What's worse, Thomas goes from being a promising young doctor to a hapless fisherman, leaving Helen all alone each morning to care for their newborn daughter—and to look elsewhere for comfort.

ANDREA (PHOTO EDITOR): I didn't like this book. What's the takeaway? A young wife from a wealthy family doesn't want to be near her overbearing mom. So she and her husband move to the sticks, and then—surprise, surprise!—she feels isolated. It was just so predictable.

EILEEN (ASSISTANT EDITOR): I've never understood stories where kids from rich families try so hard to reject them. It's like, what's wrong with a cushy life?

JIHAN (EDITORIAL ASSISTANT): It's the hippie ideal of living without. Helen and Thomas have this fantasy of going back to nature, but the reality isn't so idyllic.

LEA (FEATURES EDITOR): I liked the book. And I think Helen's disillusionment with motherhood would be relatable for a lot of women. She thinks it's going to be fulfilling, and instead she feels stifled and alone. Her husband has checked out, and she's got no sisters or friends to help her. I could see how she would end up having an affair with the handyman.

EILEEN: I loved that scene after Helen first has her daughter, Elise, and she gets so claustrophobic: "Helen sometimes felt shackled. Any desire she might have to read, explore, even look out over the river was stymied by the weight of her breasts emptied but already swelling with new milk, Elise's cries for more."

ANDREA: I had no sympathy for her. The fact that she was baffled by the lack of plumbing in a house she bought sight unseen was ridiculous. And the writing! Every sentence had three adjectives.

LEA: It did feel a bit like an Iowa Writers' Workshop exercise, with ridiculously florid descriptions. Like, why call it a rock when you can call it "pebbled agate"? Too many mulberries, ospreys, and laurel.

JIHAN: I disagree. I liked the writing. And since Barnes actually lived this kind of life, it seemed genuine to me.

ANDREA: The other issue I had was that the book drew all these way-too-obvious parallels. For example, Helen and Elise both date boys their parents don't approve of, and both want desperately to escape their roots. Come on ...

JIHAN: But there was the larger theme, about how the desire to break away from your family exists everywhere, from tony Connecticut to middle-of-nowhere Idaho.

EILEEN: Right. And there was this sense that no matter where you go, you can't escape yourself. Helen and Thomas went to Idaho to see what they were made of. And they found there wasn't much there.


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