A Country Called Home
It's 1960, and Thomas Deracotte has just become an M.D. He has also married the lovely, impulsive Helen, who is pregnant with his baby. The young couple could stay in Connecticut, enjoying a luxurious life, but they decide to live off the land in Idaho's mountains. Helen is rebelling against her family's patrician lifestyle, while Thomas is remembering the only happiness he knew as a child, when he went to live a simple existence with his grandmother after his parents vanished from his life.
Helen and Thomas head out for their "grand adventure" in their Volkswagen, having bought a place sight unseen in the tiny town of Fife, where they plan to be very content in their new home along the river. They begin by living in a tent while they build a barn and house because the original house is so dilapidated it is beyond saving. Thomas knows he should be setting up his practice, but all he really wants to do is fish. When Helen mildly complains of hunger, he claims he can feed them off the land.
Luckily for the Deracottes, Thomas has hired Manny, a young local handyman, to help them set up their homestead. Manny is a bit of a loner, although he has one good friend in Dr. K, the town pharmacist. He is hard-working and honest, and although he falls deeply and steadfastly in love with Helen at the very moment he first glimpses her, it is a secret he holds close to his heart.
Helen goes into labor prematurely. Thomas has doubts about his own abilities as a physician, but he must put his hesitation aside to help Helen as she delivers inside their rustic tent. After their baby girl is born, they are shocked when Helen delivers another baby, a tiny boy, who dies instantly. Helen and Thomas hardly acknowledge the birth of the boy twin, choosing instead to concentrate on the baby girl Elise.
After Elise is born, Helen grows more and more disheartened with her life and with their living conditions. She is desperately lonely and wishes she had some creature comforts, such as a refrigerator or an oven. She wonders why Thomas won't open his practice and why he is gone constantly, acquiring fish, berries and plums (he calls it providing for his family while she silently accuses him of playing by the river). When Manny agrees to babysit, Helen drives into town to drink at the bar.
Manny is with Thomas when Thomas is bitten by a rattlesnake. Thomas refuses to see Dr. K, claiming he can heal himself. But it's really Manny who nurses him back to health over the weeks that follow. Manny helps Helen with the chores. And when he cradles Elise, humming "The Tennessee Waltz," Helen and Manny spontaneously hold each other and dance across the kitchen. As Helen, Manny and Elise tentatively begin to link to each other, Thomas is self-administering pain drugs that help ease not only the discomfort from the snake bite but his general disconnection with his life.
A COUNTRY CALLED HOME feels like a classic. It is beautifully written with complex, flawed characters and an unpredictable and fascinating plot. Readers will ponder the meaning of family, nature, grief and joy set against the gorgeous backdrop of Idaho's wilderness as the young Deracottes' dreams smack into harsh reality. An engrossing, sometimes heartbreaking read with a leavening of hopefulness, Kim Barnes’s new novel is not to be missed.
Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon on December 28, 2010
A Country Called Home
- Publication Date: October 6, 2009
- Genres: Fiction
- Paperback: 288 pages
- Publisher: Anchor
- ISBN-10: 0307389111
- ISBN-13: 9780307389114