Friday, September 26, 2008

A Country Called Home-Kim Barnes

A Country Called Home
Kim Barnes
Knopf, Oct 3 2008, $23.95
ISBN: 9780307268952

In Connecticut scholarship medical student Thomas Deracotte met, dated, and married wealthy Helen over the objections of her upper crust parents; her father being third generation Yale especially detested this scholarship student. Soon after they exchange I do, the couple in 1960 moves to a farm in Fife, Idaho where he is to open up a medical practice; the current local health care comes from a pharmacist.

Shockingly, Thomas delays starting his practice as he would rather work the land; Helen quickly misses her family and her New England upper class lifestyle as farm living is not the place for her. She becomes pregnant while Thomas hires teen Manny to work on the farm. Helen gives birth to Elise, but she soon wants freedom from her intolerant spouse and is lonely from the hours of nothing but motherhood; while her husband turns to drugs to alleviate his feelings of failure as a physician, as a farmer, as a husband, and as a father. She considers Manny for a fling and he is falling in love with her. However after a tragedy changes the family dynamics, Manny is more a dad to Elise while her biological father is deeper into drugs.

This is a dark family drama that looks closely at the1960s and 1970s when youthful idealism turned to cynicism and disappointment; yet with Elise there is guarded hope for the future. None of the four lead characters escape the bleakness, which in some ways becomes overbearing when one traumatic event is followed by another and another until suddenly Elsie is a teenager. Still in spite of the overwhelming sense of negativity, Kim Barnes provides a poignant look at idealism without pragmatism.

Harriet Klausner

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