Book cover of A Country Called Home

A Country Called Home

by Kim Barnes

Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Pages: 288
ISBN: 9780307389114

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Overview of A Country Called Home

A powerful novel of young love and rural isolation from the acclaimed author of In the Wilderness.

Thomas Deracotte is just out of medical school, and his pregnant wife, Helen, have their whole future mapped out for them in upper-crust Connecticut. But they are dreamers, and they set out to create their own farm in rural Idaho instead. The fields are in ruins when they arrive, so they hire a farmhand named Manny to help rebuild. But the sudden, frightening birth of their daughter, Elise, tests the young couple, and Manny is called upon to mend this fractured family. An extraordinary story of hope and idealism, A
Country Called Home is a testament to the power of family—the family we are born to and the family we create.

Synopsis of A Country Called Home

With her acclaimed memoir In the Wilderness Kim Barnes brought us to the great forests of Idaho, where geography and isolation shape love and family. Now, in her luminous new novel, she returns to this territory, offering a powerful tale of hope and idealism, faith and madness.

It is 1960 when Thomas Deracotte and his pregnant wife, Helen, abandon a guaranteed future in upper-crust Connecticut and take off for a utopian adventure in the Idaho wilderness. They buy a farm sight unseen and find the buildings collapsed, the fields in ruins. But they have a tent, a river full of fish, and acres overgrown with edible berries and dandelion greens. Helen learns to make coffee over a fire as they set about rebuilding the house. Though Thomas discovers he can’t wield a hammer or an ax, there is a local boy, Manny—a sweet soul of eighteen without a family of his own—who agrees to manage the fields in exchange for room and board. Their optimism and desire carry them through the early days.

But the sudden, frightening birth of Thomas and Helen’s daughter, Elise, changes something deep inside their marriage. And then, in the aftermath of a tragic accident to which only Manny bears witness, suspicion, anger, and regret come to haunt this shattered family. It is a legacy Elise will inherit and struggle with, until she ultimately finds a hope of her own.

In this extraordinary novel, Kim Barnes reminds us of what it means to be young and in love, to what lengths people will go to escape loneliness, and the redemption found in family.

The New York Times - Bruce Barcott

Because she knows the territory so intimately, A Country Called Home is filled with exquisitely etched landscapes. The novel brims with the smell of brambles and berries along an Idaho riverbank, the gritty feel of the dust in an abandoned homesteader's shack, the sounds of grouse and quail in the fields.

About the Author, Kim Barnes

Kim Barnes is the author of the novel Finding Caruso and two memoirs, In the Wilderness: Coming of Age in Unknown Country—a finalist for the 1997 Pulitzer Prize—and Hungry for the World. She is coeditor with Mary Clearman Blew of Circle of Women: An Anthology of Contemporary Western Women Writers, and with Claire Davis of Kiss Tomorrow Hello: Notes from the Midlife Underground by Twenty-Five Women Over Forty. Her essays, stories, and poems have appeared in a number of journals and anthologies, including The Georgia Review, Shenandoah, MORE magazine, and the Pushcart Prize Anthology. She teaches writing at the University of Idaho and lives with her husband, the poet Robert Wrigley, on Moscow Mountain.

Reviews of A Country Called Home

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Bruce Barcott

Because she knows the territory so intimately, A Country Called Home is filled with exquisitely etched landscapes. The novel brims with the smell of brambles and berries along an Idaho riverbank, the gritty feel of the dust in an abandoned homesteader's shack, the sounds of grouse and quail in the fields.
—The New York Times

Publishers Weekly

A newly married couple abandon the comfort of upper-class Connecticut and stake their claim in 1960s Fife, Idaho, in Pulitzer-finalist Barnes's exquisite novel. Thomas and Helen Deracotte-he a young, poor doctor, she a stifled, monied rebel-buy an isolated farm sight unseen and arrive to find it a shambles. Upon arriving in the inhospitable wilderness, Thomas realizes that he would rather live off the land for their daily sustenance than open his own medical practice, and he hires Manny, a handsome teenage vagabond, to help around the farm. When Helen has baby girl Elise, Manny ingratiates himself further with the Deracottes and becomes a loving caretaker. But when the new mother begins to feel suffocated and overwhelmed, she returns to her rebellious ways and finds herself powerfully attracted to Manny. Their relationship has dire consequences for all involved-particularly for Helen and Elise, but nobody gets off easy. Barnes's descriptions of the rugged landscape are vivid, and the characters' sadness and desires are revealed with wrenching detail. (Oct.)

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Library Journal

Barnes's second novel (after Finding Caruso) radiates compassion for characters struggling against dreadful odds. Thomas Deracotte, a physician by training, is an idealist whose single-minded vision takes him to a run-down farm in Idaho in a misguided move to live off the land. His wife, Helen, who married him in an act of rebellion against her wealthy family, is shocked by the brutal reality of life with Thomas; all he has to offer is a tent without plumbing or electricity. Even after baby Elise arrives, Helen is painfully lonely and longs for her family. Thomas delays setting up his medical practice because the townspeople still rely on the local pharmacist. His failure as both a doctor and a farmer drives him to abuse drugs he can easily obtain. Manny, the hired man, tries to keep the farm and the family together only to fall in love with Helen. Covering 17 years, Barnes's spellbinding story details personal tragedy and failed Sixties idealism but ends with the hope of a new generation. Highly recommended for all public libraries.
—Donna Bettencourt

Kirkus Reviews

Poet/memoirist Barnes' second novel (Finding Caruso, 2003) traces the impact of a young couple's impetuous decision to seek a new life in Idaho. Thomas is a scholarship student in medical school, Helen an undergraduate from a wealthy background, but both dream of a simple existence far from Connecticut. So they buy a farm sight-unseen near the tiny town of Fife and head there in September 1960. Helen is heavily pregnant, Thomas has virtually none of the skills required to rebuild the property's ruined structures, and the already fraught situation deteriorates after the birth of their daughter Elise. New mother Helen is astonished to find herself desperately lonely, missing the privileged family and lifestyle she once disdained. Thomas spends most of his time fishing, and although he loves her passionately, he can't bring himself to alter in any way the life that makes him happy and her miserable. Unsurprisingly, Helen finds herself attracted to Manny, the parentless local teen living with them and doing most of the farm work. Helen's accidental drowning when Elise is just a baby closes the novel's first half, leaving lasting wounds exposed in Part Two. Sixteen-year-old Elise is home-schooled by Manny, who does everything else around the farm as well, while her father maintains a desultory medical practice and a carefully controlled addiction to Dilaudid. Elise falls in with a preacher's son, becomes immersed in a hysterical, punitive form of fundamentalism, and winds up in a mental institution after starving herself and trying to scratch out her sinful eyes. Barnes's beautiful prose and tender characterizations, particularly of the Fife residents who succor the desolate protagonists, areincreasingly swamped by lurid, plausibility-straining plot developments. We get the point: Everyone here is bereft in some way, longing for love and seeking to fill the void with various, mostly damaging substitutes. By the time another baby is born under dangerous circumstances in the woods, many readers will be exasperated by the too-neat parallels and overly literary insights. Resonant with themes of longing and loss, but too self-conscious for its own good. Agent: Sally Wofford-Girand/Brick House Literary Agents

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