When I picked up 500 Acres and No Place to Hide a few weeks ago, I was expecting a fish-out-of-water book, like Betty McDonald’s 1945 classic The Egg and I, or beloved columnist Jeanne Marie Laskas’ 50 Acres and a Poodle. You know, city girl turns farmgirl — and hilarity ensues. I was looking for a comforting, slightly funny book, and I’m happy to say that while this book was both, it was also so much more.
The book starts where Susan McCorkindale’s first book, Confessions of a Counterfeit Farm Girl, leaves off, with Susan and her family firmly planted in a wonderful old farmhouse (Nate’s place, as it conjured up images of where Nathanial Hawthorne might have lived) in rural Virginia. Susan is having trouble with her archenemy, the chickens, who roost in her windowboxes. It gives them comfort, you see, and they insist upon it, as they’re still a little disturbed from a bad night when the fox visited and took out the rooster and six hens (the seventh died later of minor injuries). Still shaky from that night and afflicted with poultry PTSD, they roost in the windowboxes and stare at the chicken coop until they get so peeved that they attack each other. Again. So off Susan goes, to replant the pansies. Again. But Cluckster just can’t leave well enough alone, and ….
Trust me. By the time you’ve finished the first few pages (and the hilarious footnotes that could give Shallow Gal a run for her money), you’ll be entranced by this tractor tell-all detailing the life of a fashionable 30-something who trades in a comfortable life in the suburbs for the hard work of a farm – but won’t give up her heels.
The book is thoroughly up-to-the-minute, with occasional emails of the day’s happenings, frets about Facebook friendship and which truths to post, blogging bits, and even a recipe for the Hemingway Daiquiri, created by the good ladies of the Solomon Schechter Day School book club in New Milford, New Jersey, who the family left behind in presence but not in spirit. Every detail rings true and believable, and whether she’s wearing one of Mommy Needs a Cocktail’s sweet t-shirts, sweating as photographer and friend Kim teaches Jazzercise, or planning to turn the bird-friendly storage shed into a completely modern dance studio, the reader feels right there alongside her. And that is a hilarious – and comforting – place to be, as I found out at her book signing and reading in Georgetown last Wednesday. Just look at all those books of hers behind us!
The tone changes a little – just a little – in the last third of the book, when Susan’s beloved husband Stu is diagnosed with cancer. The neat thing is, LIFE GOES ON. The animals still have to be fed. The children still have to do homework. The tractors still need to be driven, and we still see Susan traipsing around the chicken coop in heels, flustered chickens flying about her knees. Just as they did before. The difference is, now Susan becomes the primary farm manager and, gradually, her husband’s caregiver. Don’t stop reading – there’s something important here. In one of the first passages where cancer is mentioned, Susan berates herself for not counting the pain pills left in the bottle before the weekend. A refill, of course, is a big deal, since we cancer patients need opiates and those scrips have to be picked up in person. And, as you can imagine, the oncologist is not just around the corner when you live on a farm. She makes it hilarious, but also teaches us just a little about the extra details that pop up when you’re both partner and caregiver, and I APPRECIATE THAT more than I can say in words. LIFE GOES ON after cancer, and sometimes, it’s still even funny. Susan manages to stumble over tragedy, confess her writer’s block, and then move on with both the book and with life, and for that, she is one of my new heros.
Disclosure: I absolutely adore this book. I was sent a copy of this book for review, but I loved it so much I bought two more copies for gifts on Wednesday and spent my day at chemo talking it up to all the nurses. They were delighted that both cancer treatment and pallative care were mentioned in a positive light, and I agree with them wholeheartedly. This book is a winner, and it’s a great idea as a holiday gift for bloggers, for families with cancer, and for anyone who deserves a little more laughter in their life.