A debut collection of short stories and essays mostly focuses on the author’s childhood in rural Kentucky but also strays into fiction.
Ashby, the titular baby boomer, grew up on a farm in Walton Creek, Kentucky, and the memory of this place informs his writing. The opener sees the author reflecting on his past as his plane taxis, thinking back to his farm and marveling at “how I got from such a simple beginning to this point in life.” He sees a nearly universal longing for the past reflected in a plain stick house, a notion that he links to the works of Thoreau, Twain, and Frost. He follows this theme of remembrance throughout the volume. In the next story, Ashby personifies an unnamed U.S. creek, reflecting on the natural world’s destruction by European colonists and, eventually, Americans. He returns to the wild in another anthropomorphic tale in which he converses with a snake before a chorus of nearby animals joins in, giving its perspective on humanity’s foolishness. The rest of the stories explore Ashby’s rural beginnings, often using one object to illuminate a larger point about modern society. In “Heirlooms and Poke Greens,” he humorously discusses how he eats dangerous vegetables despite society’s condemnation. He examines the uses of buckets in the old country in “The Water Bucket” and the rituals of washing and cleaning in “Dishpans and Rayon Mops.” The most intriguing tales involve the author’s childhood, from the light “The Chismus Cake,” about a disappointing fruitcake, to the heavier “My Old Friend,” which relates how Ashby and his dog made regular sojourns to the woods to deal with his father’s declining health. The author’s folksy register makes the book a quick read, but the themes start to become repetitive. Many of the tales compare how things were done in earlier decades to present practices. The sections on Ashby’s family are moving, but they are sandwiched between his peculiar fixations on old objects, which can create strange emotional swings. But the work’s ultimate philosophy remains hopeful; despite Ashby’s denouncements of the modern era, there is a belief that things will eventually get better.
Meandering forays into the past that will likely appeal to those yearning for a slice of the old days.