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AN AMERICAN HOMEPLACE by Donald McCaig

AN AMERICAN HOMEPLACE

The Real World of Rural America

By Donald McCaig

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1992
ISBN: 0-517-58487-5
Publisher: Crown

 Essays on rural life by NPR commentator McCaig (Eminent Dogs, Dangerous Men, 1991; Nop's Trials, 1984, etc.). McCaig's historical piece about the remote Virginia region where he lives and why he gave up Manhattan is unfocused and gets the book off to an uncertain start. Nor do the two-page essays, written for radio, and the longer essays, created for publications such as The Atlantic, contribute to a unified whole. Read individually, however, McCaig's pieces are lyrical and timely. The joys of country life come through in meditations on being snowbound, when one can read in peace and savor the food one has laid by. Farm animals provide satisfaction: the pleasures of working stock with dogs, or the nearly human frailties of sheep. But McCaig has doubts about the life he and his wife have carved out: City friends are far more prosperous, and everywhere he looks rural communities are failing. There are fewer farmers; every old method, which took from the land but also preserved it, is being subsumed by the assembly-line style of agribusiness. In his concluding essays, McCaig seeks out several visionaries, asking, in effect, ``Can we save rural America?'' Helen Nearing and the now- deceased Scott Nearing were the famous radicals of the 1950's who, with Living the Good Life and its sequels, inspired ``back-to-the- land''--but McCaig feels the movement has died. Wendell Berry, while an admirable philosopher and poet, also seems anachronistic. The nearest thing to hope comes in Kansas, from Wes Jackson, with his elaborate experiments with the right crops for the right regions. McCaig brings a kind of loving humility to his subjects, a rare quality. His collection is uneven, but, at its best, pure and moving. (Twenty halftones--not seen.)