Book Review, Moving to the Country by Reeve Lindbergh Brown
I read this 1983 novel some months ago, but as I looked it over again to write this review, its attraction for me hasn’t changed. Many of us wanted to take part in the “moving to the country” movement.
My adventures in this direction weren’t from that intent of moving, as such, but were from what I found after I had moved to rural Maine to be a minister and then to teach. It was while teaching, after I had removed the religious fervor from my life and noticed that I, with my wife and bread snappers, was actually living in the country.
We had some similar adventures as found in this novel as well as lots more not found in it -- but found while living in the country.
Supper with the parents of a sixth-grade student placed that living-in-the-country longing right in the middle of my desires. They were hippies, as that long-haired, living-off-the-land, vegetarian subculture was known to those living nearby. Those “hippies” not only fed us with a vegetarian something or other that was not only tasty but stuck with us throughout the evening but gave me my first copy of the Writer’s Market, which guided me though my early freelancing years.
My subsequent reading of Ruth Stout’s Gardening without Work placed my new, largely unrecognized desire to live more simply in the country right up front in the form of organic gardening -- which I’ve been practicing, successfully a few times, for the past nearly 40 years.
Moving to the Country was one of many such books, and while the actual story the novel unfolds is not particularly remarkable -- different than others or from real life in yonder country, I enjoyed some of the references to the real-life stuff.
The bookjacket summarizes it well: “Nancy and Tom King, disillusioned with suburban life, have moved their young family to the country. Tom, a teacher, hopes to revolutionize a rural Vermont high school. While Nancy dreams of an idyllic country childhood for their two daughters and one for the baby she is expecting in the spring. But when the Kings get to the farm, they discover how complicated the simple life can be. Unforeseen crises develop to threaten Nancy’s envisioned future, Tom’s job, and even their marriage.”
This paragraph is so typical of the real experiences of so many, who moved to Maine -- I only know about Vermont from the old Newhart TV series of their operating a country inn in the same state. As a reporter, I can’t begin to remember how many times I’ve sat in a small-town selectmen’s meeting and heard that newer resident from suburbia explain how much better this matter would have been handled back in their suburban town of much larger population.
Having learned a bit from the natives of the area, I would, as would many of those natives, yearn to say, “Well, if where you came from is so wonderful, what are you doing here?”
They came to help -- perhaps “revolutionize” -- the natives of their new home. Instead, they should have paid attention to those natives. Granted, some of those “from away” have improved this or that, but the natives’ putting up with them allowed that improvement.
From an early part of the book comes, “Once in a while one of them would soften and ask the other, with a puzzled, almost yielding compassion, ‘Are you sure that this is what you want?’
“And the other would always answer, ‘Positive.’ But this answer was never given the emphasis one might have expected it to carry. After it, they both drew back and were silent.”
The next paragraph tells the beginnings of the King’s move to the country with, “...by the middle of August the Kings had moved north. With their savings and a legacy from Nancy’s father, who had died the year before, they put a down payment on a house and sixty acres in Winsom, Vermont.”
So the tale begins. A pretty typical tale, fictionalized.
“‘Have you by any chance run across a young woman by the name of Bussette? Terry Bussette?’”
With that we have the romantic complication of a good novel.
“‘...That’s the other side of it, the part you people see (the outsiders), and the part that gets written up in Vermont Life. The ‘community spirit.’ It’s different now, of course. A lot of new people are moving in, and so many of the local kids are leaving. I don’t know what the next generation will be like.’”
In my years in Maine, I’ve seen this “leaving” of the local kids. Years later, I’ve observed their returning, not telling what happened in “away” during those years, how expensive life had been, how many problems, leading them eventually home again. That, to my mind, is the local experience that seldom is mentioned.
At the Children’s Center comes the hint at sex, the “dirty” stuff that novelists include to attract readers. “When Lisa sat down on the floor to remove her boots, Terranova crouched beside her.
“‘Hey, kid,’ she asked, thrusting her face into Lisa’s. ‘You got a vagina?’
“‘No,’ said Lisa, turning her back in outrage.”
A paragraph takes us through the hanging of the coats on the hanger along the wall.
Then, “‘If she gots a vagina,’ Terranova asked, with an accusing glance at Lisa, ‘how come she’s wearing boys’ boots?’”
The risque part concludes with Lisa’s, “They’re not boys’ boots. They were my sister’s. Anyway, I don’t wear my boots on my vagina.”
As has to happen in a moving-to-the-country novel, since it does in real already-in-the-country life, January Thaw arrives. “For three weeks, rain came down and mist and fog rose up from the fields without a pause.”
I remember that from some of the more discouraging winters I’ve lived in Maine. That rain would never stop, the eves dripped, the mood dripped even more.
And Brown, as she must, covers the opposite of winter.
“‘Isn’t it wonderful,’ Martha agreed. ‘No more snow. Every day when I wake up I expect to see it, and every day it isn’t there.’
“‘No,’ said Nancy. ‘It’s almost July.’”
Remember that time in June? April, with its mix of snow and rain and blackflies and finally mosquitoes, had given way finally to June. I like to tell tourists that in Maine, April lasts for three months.
This book has it all, along with a fictitious story.
A good read from yesteryear.
The bookjacket tells about the author, “Reeve Lindbergh Brown is the daughter of Anne Morrow Lindbergh and Charles Lindbergh. She graduated from Radcliffe College, and was an elementary school teacher. Her short stories have appeared in McCall;’s, Redbook, Country Journal, and Vermont Life.
This story has also appeared in real life for many followers of the moving-to-the-country era.
Maybe that’s why, after all these years -- nearly thirty, it remains a good, realistic, dream-fulfilling tale to those who did or did not see their dreams likewise fulfilled.
If you can ever find it, grab it and then read it.
Milt Gross can be reached for corrections, harassment, or other purposes at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Milton M. Gross Copyright 2012