The British NPR essayist, living in the U.S. since 1973, moves to Vermont and evolves into a true old Down East philosopher.
The premise: an innocent writer buys a rustic plot. But don’t confuse this with the story about a naïve scribe who acquires country premises. Still, either way, page by page, the resolute author constructs a book of days from seven years of life at home in the land of homespun truth-seekers, the Green Mountain State. Present here is the requisite supporting cast of canny local service people, sharp merchants and loyal family. Early on, a scary hummingbird appears. And there are everyday matters like snow, of course, and ice, pollen, wasps, balky furniture, lawns as ecosystems and a dry well. Inventories of plants, rocks, rusting vehicles and floating clouds are fodder for down-to-earth musings in the boonies. Brookes (Guitara, p. 206, etc.), employing the solipsistic attention typical of the genre, wrestles manfully with nature, electrical wiring and a bit of bird’s-foot trefoil. The recurrent theme, however, is the driveway: the driveway down to the house, the driveway as historic artifact, the ecologic driveway, the taxonomy of driveways and the metaphysics of driveways. His driveway becomes a “kind of Advanced Vermont Living Test” that he’s bound to fail. Concluding the Sisyphean uphill battle with roadwork, Brookes gives over his penultimate chapter to words from the builder of his home that overlooks the verdant, self-regulating valley.
A sophisticated writer, like many before him, moves his family to Vermont and cranks out an elegy to the simple life. Not quite E.B. White among the chickens, but pleasant enough.