Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Book Review #34: Lambsquarters by Barbara McLean

An enjoyable visit to the country and the quiet ways and objects of country life. Subtitled 'Scenes from a Handmade Life', this back-to-the-land memoir is constructed of numerous short sections, many of which are meditations on familiar country things: a leaning barn, a crowbar, a snapping turtle, a towering beech tree, a corduroy road. But the book comes fully alive when McLean recounts her many experiences raising sheep. When the author and her physician husband, Thomas, first came to Grey County in southern Ontario, they gave their farm the singularly appropriate name, Lambsquarters, the name of a local edible weed. The tales of delivering, raising, shearing and caring for sheep and lambs have the scent of authenticity – the reader can smell wet wool and lanolin in the air of the old barn. McLean is good with a simile: a lamb born dead is “neatly contained in a pellucid envelope, as beautifully wrapped as a Japanese present”; half-grown chicks are watched by barn cats “following their moves like tennis fans.” The broader considerations of life in the country are all present (weather, wildlife, social gatherings and so on) but this book excels in its homey, almost invisible details, for example, the way moisture quickly evaporates from a freshly laid egg. At times the book feels somewhat overwritten with too many references to the gods and goddesses of classical myth, and McLean fails to make the few characters outside her own family come alive. Nevertheless, for its quiet reflections on country ways, this is a most enjoyable read.

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