Second-novelist Ozeki (My Year of Meats, 1998) shifts her focus to potatoes in this full-course meal of a story about family farmers, environmental activists, and corporate agribusinessmen whose interests collide on a farm in Liberty Falls, Idaho.
Retired potato farmer and semi-invalid Lloyd Fuller and his Japanese wife Momo, who suffers from advancing Alzheimer’s, have sold most of their acreage to their daughter Yumi’s childhood friend Cass and her husband, but they still run a small catalogue seed company out of Momo’s garden. No one has seen Yumi since she ran away at 14 after Lloyd found out about her “affair” with history teacher Elliot Rhodes, but when Lloyd suffers a heart attack, Cass tracks her down. Yumi, now a part-time college teacher and real-estate developer in Hawaii, arrives at the farm with her three children (from three fathers) so full of unresolved angst that she barely registers the emotional crisis quietly brewing within Cass over her childlessness and a recent bout of cancer. Soon the Seeds of Resistance, a troop of eco-activists, show up and proclaim Lloyd, whose Christian fundamentalist beliefs about life’s sacred nature mesh with their own New Age-y ones, their new guru. Yumi finds herself the outsider as the Seeds care for her ailing father, charm her kids, and help Momo catalogue her seeds before memory fades completely. Meanwhile, Elliot, now a p.r. flack for an agribusiness, is sent to Idaho to push one of its products that the Seeds happen to be protesting. Yumi and Elliot reconnect, though this time it’s Elliot who is smitten. Lloyd’s health deteriorates, the Seeds plan a major action, and Elliot’s agribusiness operatives run amok. Liberty Falls becomes the intersection of intense personal drama—romantic and familial—and intense eco-political (both economic and ecological) theatrics. Add a thorough history of American potato farming and a huge cast of characters, most fully realized and heart-wrenching in their imperfect yearnings.
A feast for mind and heart.