The 115-year history of a family farm reveals few skeletons, too many sidetracks, and the decline of an American institution. Writing of birthing livestock and harvesting fields with a straightforward ""the nights grow longer"" brand of simplicity, Hildebrand (Reading the River, 1988) explores the farmland existence of four generations of his wife's family in a narrative with more grandparents, cousins, and in-laws than you can shake a stick at. Plenty of potentially enjoyable tales are set up, only to fall flat at the payoff. It's Hildebrand's literary misfortune that he married into a family that suffered a drought of extreme tragedies or spectacular successes. He seems a bit of an outsider to this clan as well and so focuses on concrete events rather than risk exploring the internal lives of his wife's parents and sibs. Additionally, the book tackles a bevy of historical topics as diverse as the Irish migration, the Agricultural Allotment Act, 4-H Clubs, and WW II-era flight training. Because of this, and with so much familial history being chronicled, the emotional attachment the reader wishes to place on the endangered land and on Ed, the weakened patriarch who has shared too little of his wisdom with his offspring, is deflected, and one must parcel attention in several directions at once. Were this Dickens's England, such an effort might prove worthwhile; but this is Rochester, Minn., where, as the dairy princess in a gopher celebration parade understands, ""once you've been paraded down Main Street in your prom dress there's nothing much left to do except leave."" A less than gripping account of a farm family muddling its way through the century as tradition gives way to compromise.