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FIFTY ACRES AND A POODLE by Jeanne Marie Laskas


Farm Lessons in Life, Love, and Livestock

by Jeanne Marie Laskas

Pub Date: Oct. 10th, 2000
ISBN: 0-553-10904-9
Publisher: Bantam

A professional, city-living woman up and moves herself and boyfriend to a farm, where everything is way different from what she’s used to. Eventually, she and boyfriend find true happiness. It really happened, she says. The End.

Washington Post Magazine columnist Laskas expanded this tale from a series of articles, although readers might guess that without being told. Writers of humorous articles, like stand-up comics, often aim for the quick laugh, one that cannot be too closely examined. For instance, early on, Laskas wants to illustrate how doggone unsophisticated folks are in Scenery Hill, as compared to Pittsburgh. Her example: in Scenery Hill, a whole bunch of the men she meets have the same first name—Joe. Some of them even have the same last name. (In those cases, they’re usually father and son, but hey, those country folk are something, aren’t they?) Thankfully, those same people eventually acquire a third dimension, and so does Laskas’s story. Amid its description of tractors and animals, it’s a love story, starring Laskas and a fiancé who appears to be the perfect man. He is understanding and cooperative with everyone. (Well, he’s a shrink.) There’s a running joke about his poodle: whenever one of their neighbors expresses astonishment that he owns one, he or Laskas says something like, “It’s a standard poodle, not the little yappy kind.” A similar defense can be made for Laskas’s whole story: in the long run, it’s substantial, not merely a collection of one-liners. In fact it explores such substantive issues as how our childhoods influence our adult lives and the different ways we each—country or city—face love, work, illness, and death.

This threatens at first to be a one-joke story, but gradually the people become more real, the writing more honest. When it stops going for the laughs, it gets them anyway, along with a whole passel of genuine emotions.