Thursday, June 17, 2010

Fifty Acres And A Poodle (2000)

I did warn you I liked farm stories. Despite the wet-blanket-in-a-greenhouse effect of 90% humidity, I always go out to the local 4H fair each July. I spotted a girl walking a sheep around on a leash and gnashed my teeth in pure jealousy. I soothe my frustrated inner farmer by touring the animal tents. Below, a particularly cute Holstein calf from last year's fair.

Fifty Acres And A Poodle is not exactly a horse story, but it's somewhat related. And, frankly, few horse stories have a sense of humor (well, you try cracking a joke while rescuing your beloved palomino stallion, Texas Sunset, from a kill buyer so he can race in the Kentucky Derby to win back the family ranch and show that mean old Jessica/Brittany/Alexandra you are TOO the best young rider in the Pony Club) so anything comic is a welcome change.

Fifty Acres And A Poodle: A Story Of Love, Livestock And Finding Myself On A Farm
Jeanne Marie Laskas
2000, Bantam

At 37, Laskas was a happy, self-sufficient writer living contentedly in an arty neighborhood of Pittsburgh with her aging cat. But to her considerable embarassment, she had a dream of farms which was largely rooted in a sitcom. Green Acres was the place for her. Even though:

I was a person who liked to go to the mall. I was a person who had no conflict about liking to go to the mall.

And then she realized that her old friend Alex is really something more like her really great potential love of her life Alex. And that the city, the wonderful urban surroundings she's thrived on for years, is beginning to wear on her.

Lately, in this city I love, this neighborhood I love, all I seem to notice are the intrusions. Hot air. Reeking garbage. Lunatic neighbors. Bus fumes. I am inventing filters. Stinky-garbage filters. Lunatic-neighbor filters. Noxious-bus-fume filters. Sometimes I imagine plugging a big air conditioner into the front of my head so I can block the rest of the world right the hell out.
That's not right.

And after much back-and-forthing, they buy it. A forty-acre farm forty miles from Pittsburgh with an 1887 bank barn and a pond and a house sporting a huge modern studio from a former owner off one end. And move in just in time for hunting season, complete with endless explosions from the woods nearby. And within days, her previously dubious boyfriend, urban guy and psychiatrist Alex, is hobnobbing with hunters -

When Lucy comes back with the fries, Alex stands and says goodbye to his new friend. "And hey," he says earnestly, "congratulations on your... dead deer."

- and she's appalled herself by reverting to girlishness.

I stand here thinking I should speak my mind. Because there is no way. There is no way I'm going to allow hunting anywhere near me. And I am a woman of the 1990s, active and independent-minded, fully in charge of my life. It is so important to me that I stand behind my beliefs and be heard, be known. This is a golden opportunity for me to spread my magnificent wings and soar.
I say: "I'll have to ask my husband..." It comes out like a series of chirps, dying bird chirps.

I won't spoil the rest by writing more. This memoir is funny, flippant and hugely entertaining. The only drawback is that it sometimes goes too deeply flippant, never quite managing to drop the pretense of wry cynicism at serious moments.

Laskas has written two follow-up memoirs, The Exact Same Moon and Growing Girls. As you might suspect from the title, the latter focuses on parenting and her daughters. As you might suspect of a memoir dealing with raising female children on a farm, there are even more horsey passages.

Author's website

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AC said...

You know, now that you mention it, I can't think of a single laugh-out-loud moment in a horse story.

I just noticed in an earlier post that you are not averse to suggestions of books to review.

Have you read the Windy Foot series by Frances Frost? The one I had as a child was Windy Foot at the County Fair--plenty of farm envy to indulge in there. And Jill's Victory, by Elisa Bialk, combined my two great sources of youthful envy, horses and home economics, in one 4-H themed story.

Jane Badger said...

Brilliant review - and how right you are about the general lack of humour in the horse book. It's all that morality getting in the way, I suppose.

Moggypie said...

Horse books are indeed notoriously lacking in horse laughs (with of course the wonderful exception of the Jill books). The one book I read (or tried to read) in recent years that was for kids and was supposed to be funny went so quickly for the poop jokes that we decided it was too lame for words and had to be mercifully shot (down the library return slot).

This book and its sequels, however, sounds marvelous, and I'm off to place an order for it at that same library.