Fast-track editor Alexander downshifts to the back-road life of a Maine farmer, though he keeps his journalist’s pen busy.
As a young showbiz editor at Variety and People, he already possessed considerable personal insight: “I was apprenticing to be an asshole.” So Alexander and his family upped and moved north to Maine and a farm that had seen better times. Short descriptions of his days, originally published in the Portland Phoenix, range over subjects from burning the blueberry patch to contra dancing. The author is the proverbial rube in the land of hardscrabble survivors, picking up scraps of wisdom, though he feels he will never be accepted. Yet, between magazine assignments (which come in an enviable horn of plenty), Alexander works hard at connecting with his new home; he might forget to engage the mower blades when cutting—or, rather, not cutting—the lawn, but he will also plant and sow, fight the good fight against a strip-mine proposal, and even run for selectman, an act of considerable jeopardy to his ego. At times he can be sanctimonious (“Farmers also go to college these days. The nation’s agricultural schools, supported heavily by agribusiness, teach them how to be profitable [but] there’s no textbook on how to hose out the sheep shed without disturbing the robin’s nest”), but he can also admit his inadequacies. The citizenry keep him up to speed, whether it’s the “septic analyst” who advises a new system after he “noticed some black gunk oozing up from the ground. It was crude but definitely not oil,” or the neighbor who counsels him to simply accept his primitive wood-and-gas stove. “My mother had one of those stoves,” says Ken. “Sure, every now and then she’d blow the doors off the house, but who gives a shit?”
These well-turned vignettes of a transplanted cityman won’t bump E.B. White or Noel Perrin from the top shelf, but they have an enduring simplicity and allure.