The Home Place – Fiction from the Farmlands

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One Thing Leads to Another – Hidden Gems on the Fiction Shelves of the Portsmouth Public Library
by Cathy Okhuysen

13590712Wendell Berry, poet, environmentalist, essayist and novelist, has published over 40 books. The most recent, Distant Neighbors, encompassing his correspondence with Gary Snyder, was published in June 2014. One can not talk about fiction from the farmlands, especially from Kentucky, without including the lives and loves of Port William, Kentucky. The tenth in the series, A Place in Time, was published in 2012 and includes a poignant story,  SOLD, of the auction of Beulah Gibb’s home place – she hopes to the tenant farmer Coulter Branch.  This book also has a delightful map that includes both the Catlett home place and the Coulter home place. In her blog post on “agrarian dreaming in the fiction department,” Sharyn Astyk favors Jayber Crow in the Port Williams membership but I think you will be delighted with young Andy Catlett and his grandparents.

As one things leads to another, an exploration of rural fiction brings up the classic stories of Willa Cather, as well as the 12-book gentle, historical fiction Love Comes Softly series by Christy-award-winning author Janette Oke.  The challenges of living off the land in both the original  prairies and the current farmland make for heartwarming reading.


On a grittier side, a hidden gem with another Kentucky farm setting is the 2009 novel All the Living by first time novelist C. E. Morgan:
All the Living

Rarely in this reviewer’s memory has a debut novel emerged with such a profound sense of place…. Descriptions are so vivid, yet so integrated and organic, that the reader can almost feel the lassitude of stifling humid air; smell the rich, warm earth; and see the furrowed fields, the dark mountains in the distance…. A slow, seductive dive into another time and place, a deep, quiet place.
– Karen Campbell, The Boston Globe

You know from the first pages that challenges are ahead for the young couple.

The bottomland yawned into view and she saw the fields where the young tabacco faltered on the drybeat earth…

…she found a paper heart taped to the wood… ‘Aloma, If you come when I’m gone, the tractor busted and I went to Hansonville for parts. Go on in…Orren’

Aloma was orphaned and raised by her aunt and uncle. She stayed on at her mountain mission school as the pianist until she met Orren, an aggie from the nearby college.  Then he unexpectedly inherits the family farm and their journey from passionate young lovers to overwhelmed couple is complicated by Orren’s grief and Aloma’s conflict between independence and love.  Theirs is not a gentle love, but they are honest in all their passions, including the search for beauty and the call of the land.

From the Texas panhandle of Woody Guthrie’s House of Earth, a Dust bowl era novel, finished in 1947 but only published in 2013, to the Iowa farmland of the 70s and 80s in The Year We Left Home by Jean Thompson (2011), the home place has many faces.

Like this review? You can find more Staff Picks on our new Goodreads page!

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