Monday, October 04, 2010

The Bucolic Plague (a readerly response)

The answer to why we bought the Beekman could fill the entire paper. Because we wanted a place to get away from the city. Because we wanted to grow our own food. Because the place looks like it belongs on the cover of a magazine, and we wanted a life that looked like the cover of a magazine. Because no one else in the area had the means to take care of such a high-maintenance historic building, and it seemed like a generous task to take on. Because I’m turning forty next year and wanted something to show for it. Because we’re vain, kindhearted, ambitious, shallow, deep, humble, trendy, old-fashioned, rich, poor, proud, and vulnerable. Those are merely the beginning of the reasons we bought the Beekman.

Josh Kilmer-Purcell and his partner Brent are disenchanted New Yorkers. Purcell, a former-drag- queen-turned-advertising-exec, and Brent, a trained medical doctor who works on staff at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia as her resident expert in health and wellness, stumble upon the two-hundred-year-old Beekman Mansion during one of their weekend countryside excursions. Enamored by the mansion’s history and charm and the draw of a country life, the men find themselves suddenly caught between their New York City world and the world of Sharon Springs, where they experiment with raising chickens and goats and start their own vegetable garden. The financial demands of the mansion’s upkeep, however, grow increasingly urgent, and the men find themselves hardly able to keep up with basic farm maintenance, even with the hired help of local Farmer John.

At Christmas time, a stroke of genius inspires the men to gift Martha Stewart with homemade goat’s milk soap, straight from the Beekman farm goats. Martha loves it so much that she invites Brent and the goats on her show, just as the men are feverishly strategizing ways to save themselves from financial ruin. Such exposure ignites a slew of goat milk orders, which provides a slow trickle of revenue to the partners, and spurs them to launch a web site featuring various aspects of farming life, from gardening to recipes to pie baking. It’s not enough, however, and as the recession worsens and both men lose their jobs in the city, the story becomes the struggle to maintain their hold on the mansion and their relationship with one another.

The Bucolic Plague is a charmer that pulled me in with its descriptions of the historic Beekman Crypt; the colorful residents of Sharon Springs; Josh’s attempts at heirloom vegetable gardening; and the insider scoop on Martha Stewart, the comical foil against whom Josh and Brent judge their own domestic and bucolic adventures. And while the author’s given lines of dialogue are the best in every conversation and witty, perhaps, to a suspcious degree, I came to care about the pair and found myself rooting for their success.  If you like memoir with long subtitles (I do!), memoirs that tell you how somebody got from point A to point B (me too), or memoirs that wouldn’t exist without the book advances that funded the author’s point-A-to-point-B experience (sometimes), you’d probably enjoy this book. It’s a little bit The Year of Living Biblically. A little bit Eat, Pray, Love. And it’s definitely Animal, Vegetable, Miracle meets what Kilmer-Purcell calls “farmer drag.”

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