Monday, February 22, 2010

Book Review: Confessions of a Counterfeit Farm Girl

Title: Confessions of a Counterfeit Farm Girl
Author: Susan McCorkindale
Genre: Narrative Nonfiction
Category: Memoir
Rating: D-

Summary: Susan McCorkindale gave up her high-paying job as a marketing director at Family Circle and moved from suburban New Jersey with her husband and two sons to a 500-acre farm in rural Virginia. And she doesn't really like it.

First Line: "If anyone had ever told me I'd leave my big-city job and suburban home for rural country living, I would have declared them a few bristles short of a brush," (Author's Note, p. xi).

Review: I'm having a hard time writing this negative review because in the last chapter of this book, McCorkindale writes about how she wants to be the next Nora Ephron (not the highest of literary heroes, but to each his own) and what rejection is like. I wish she hadn't written that--and made herself "human"--because I wanted to rip this book to shreds. Instead, I'll just point out, semi-analytically, why I didn't like this book.

I didn't appreciate this memoir because it failed to achieve any discernible mission. There was no direction to the book. In her defense (and in lambaste of her editor), McCorkindale started this venture as emails to her friends back in New Jersey and then branched into a blog which was the genesis for this book. And it read like that. A collection of stories, humorous at times, but without a plot arc. For example, she had one chapter, "Down the Rabbit Hole," that was about her depression (and treatment). It was in no way related to the chapter preceding, "Meet the LOB Squad" (about her friends who share her distinct lack of good breeding), or following, "Jersey Girl" (about her love for trips back to Jersey to reclaim big hair and kitschy gifts). It's just random.

The book starts out, as stated above in the first line that was quoted, with Susan talking about how she was moving to Virginia reluctantly. And you assume, or at least I did, that she'd eventually come to embrace her farming life. And, in her defense (and in lambaste of her editor), there is a tiny shred of that--roughly five pages worth of material out of 300+--but it's definitely not enough to substantiate the premise of this book. Additionally, there wasn't even many stories about how her New Jersey upbringing got her into farming faux pas; mostly it was her complaining about the cows (aka, "the girls"), the chickens, her husband, her sons, and the farm smells (and dirt/mud). There are times when some of her writing is funny, but I don't need to read more than one passage dedicated to her search for the perfect push-up and/or her complaining about her cleavage curse.

Her writing style relied upon two things:

1. Alliteration and/or "Catchy" Turns of Phrase: "Together we replaced the perch, and I went back to the piano, but only after carefully... digging out the livestock detritus packed between my piggies," (pp. 247-8). That was her way of saying, "After I cleaned cow manure out from between my toes." Either way, it's not that interesting of a side note. My advice: Make the story interesting and then the writing. One is not a substitute for the other. Just tell us interesting stuff, don't try to be clever. Unless, of course, you are clever, but 99% of the time writers aren't nearly as clever as they think they are. I know I'm not.

2. Lists: "True, I'm free of the sight and smell of the pigs that whizzed wherever they pleased during my morning and evening commutes, but they've been replaced by bulls. And cows. And deer. And dogs. And groundhogs. And foxes. And horses. And hens," (p. 212). Yeah, we get it--lots of animals pee on farms. Dial it back.

Recommendation: Skip this book. Instead, if you want your rural fix, read a piece of good literature that is set on a farm (perhaps A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley).


Jill said...

I love this part..."Make the story interesting and then the writing. One is not a substitute for the other. Just tell us interesting stuff, don't try to be clever. Unless, of course, you are clever, but 99% of the time writers aren't nearly as clever as they think they are."

I haven't read the book, but I have thought this very thing after reading plenty of books and blogs. It seems that "people" like this kind of garbage, though. That's what I can't figure out!! You have any theories on that??

Literature Crazy said...


That is the question of the ages. How does some of this stuff get published? I can kind of see that there are lots of blogs that strive to be clever (but miss the mark) because anybody can start a blog. But a book that wasn't self-published? That meant an agent liked the premise. And then the agent sold it to an editor who liked the premise. And then the editor pitched it to sales, marketing, etc., etc., etc., at the publishing house and they all liked the premise. It's confounding.

My only "theory" is that this happens from time to time with blog-to-book nonfiction books because agents and/or editors and/or publishing houses like the idea of buying something that comes with a built-in audience. All those people who already read the blog are likely to buy the book. What I don't understand are these things:
1. How many followers make for a successful enough blog to be considered sufficient "platform" that'll get your book sold? ( only has ~30 followers on the blog... could be more following in a reader or via email, but I'm not sure.)
2. Why are people reading "pseudo-funny" blogs in the first place? There are plenty of genuinely funny and/or interesting blogs out there? Why waste your time with mediocre?

(That's not a very good answer to your question, is it?)