he books in this series offer both romantic and realistic views of rural life.
Some writers believe that living on the land shapes a life of integrity, of oneness,
with man and nature, while others see it is a life of bitter hardship not to be
sentimentalized - one is always struggling to eke out a living. These six novels
show what it is like to grow up and live in rural America.
Wendell Berry, one of America’s
foremost spokesmen for the value of
rural life, writes in The Memory of
Old Jack (1999) about a man who has committed
his life to working the land on a farm in
Kentucky. On one day in September 1952, Jack
recalls the details of a life lived farming with
mules and nurturing the land through hard
work, of courting and marrying a woman who
cannot return his love, and finally of facing his
own death. The novel is a powerful evocation
of a time, its way of life, and the integrity of one
very human man.
John Grisham, the author of legal thrillers,
writes a novel in a different mode with A
Painted House (2001), set in rural Arkansas
in 1952. Narrated by a young boy, the novel
portrays farming without sentimentality as it
depicts the tension between the itinerant Mexican
workers and the white hill people of the
Ozarks who pick cotton for the dirt-poor tenants.
It is a novel about poverty and hard work,
the joys of baseball, and the loss of innocence.
Kent Haruf’s novel Plainsong (1999)
celebrates the power of landscape,
weather, and rural community. Set in a
small town on the Colorado plains in 1952, it
tells the story of eight people whose lives
converge in grief and kindness. Using prose
like the simple melody of plainsong, Haruf
alternates the voices of the characters - a
teacher, his sons, and his departing wife, two
bachelor farmers, a pregnant girl and a female
friend - to blend together in a song of praise.
Originally published in 1945, The Egg
and I, Betty Macdonald’s comic classic,
describes her marriage and move to a
small poultry farm on the Olympic Peninsula in
Washington in the 40’s. Unprepared for rural
life with no running water and no electricity, a
rustic house and neighbors, she relates the
rigors of their lives with humor as she and her
husband raise a family and not only survive but
That Old Ace in the Hole (2002) by Annie
Proulx tells the story of the Texas pan
handle through the eyes of twenty-five
year old Bob Dollar, who is secretly scouting to
buy land for an industrial hog farming operation.
In this place of extreme wind and weather,
the family ranch is nearly extinct. As Bob
Dollar meets the eccentric residents, the reader
learns the anecdotes of their colorful lives and
the forces that have shaped them.
Winter Wheat (1944) by Mildred Walker
is the coming of age story of a young
woman in Montana. Taking place in
the course of a year and half, Winter Wheat
begins in 1940 when Ellen starts college after
the family has a profitable harvest. When she
returns home with the man she loves, she views
her parents and her previous life differently and
critically. The novel examines the harsh life of
dry-land wheat farming.