Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A Country Called Home

Welcome to Fife, Idaho, a tight-knit, rural community and compelling character in Kim Barnes' novel, A Country Called Home. For years, pharmacist Burt Kalinosky - or Dr. K as the locals call him - managed the medical needs of that small community from "menstruation, childbirth through menopause" and he is a bit bemused to hear that Tom and Helen Deracotte, a New England doctor and his pregnant wife, bought the old Bateman place - sight unseen. The news also causes quite a stir among the area old-timers who know better than to buy a farm without walking the fence line and weighing the soil.

 But Tom and Helen are idealists and though unprepared for the leanness of the place - the fallen barn, the fallow fields, the wildlife foraging in the kitchen - they pitch a tent and hire locals to realign the farm. Tom wants to help, but it soon becomes uncomfortably clear that he is unsuited for the realities of repairing and working a farm or of practicing medicine. Instead, he loves the life of the river, measuring time through the arc of his fishing line and sway of the fly. So he drifts - and his shingles go unhung, his wife goes unheeded and their marriage hangs unhinged.

All that keeps them anchored is 18-year-old Manny, who, abandoned by his parents, spent his childhood being passed among the good women of Fife like a loaf of Friendship Bread. Manny is layered with the sights and sounds of those limitless families until he moves in with the Deracottes and works to mortar in the blank spaces of their lives.

Kim Barnes is enraptured with the western landscape; she crafts her descriptions of the Idaho valley as lovingly as her characters, her languid prose seducing the reader like the river seduced Tom. She views her world through a poet's eye and leaves a trail of well-crafted works exploring love, loss, harm, and healing in her wake.

Vicki Ann

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