The Farm She Was

by Ann Mohin

Published by Bridge Works Publishing

245 pages, 1998


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An Island of Peace on the Farm

Reviewed by Linda L. Richards


The Farm She Was takes place on a small farm in rural New York State: the farm where 90-year-old Irene Leahy was born and where she hopes to die. In flashbacks we meet Irene's family: her brusque farmer father, her oddly beaten mother and her alcoholic uncle. In the present, Irene's increasingly frail body is tended by a changing squad of nurses.

Author Ann Mohin lives on a farm in rural New York. She and her husband raise sheep and a good portion of their own food on their 180-parcel. They live in a house that is of about the same period as that of the fictional Irene. It comes as no surprise, then, that much of what Mohin writes about farm life in New York state rings true: she lives it, after all. Perhaps she was even inspired by it.

In halls and churches all over America, ladies were being taught how to hold and shoot guns, attack invaders, defend the countryside; and I had every intention of protecting my homestead. Shotguns and rifles stood like polished black bones in our pine gun cabinet and my Sweet Sixteen is loaded and at the ready now, right here next to this bed, and I'll not move it no matter what that pushy Reverend Thorne thinks.

The Farm She Was is Irene's own rambling retrospective on the life she was and the first half of the book is uncomfortable. One is left with the feeling that Irene's family is singularly dysfunctional, that Irene herself has led a life without color and vibrance and -- besides Mohin's lyrical prose -- just who the heck cares, anyway?

It is perhaps on the slope home that Mohin finds her stride. The pieces come together and the story develops more tightly and interestingly. And -- still -- Mohin's voice is strong and insightful.

My box of photographs are faded now, mere outlines of the original image. I brought them downstairs with me, perhaps to share with Esther. They give me pleasure. I examine the yellow-edged squares of paper like a mother who searches the face of her adult child. If the removed and preoccupied body is no longer pertinent to her own, it is, in some physical way, related and for that reason, fascinating to her and to her alone.

The Farm She Was is a peaceful read. A book for those who like late summer afternoons and words that are strung together well. We'll even forgive Mohin her happy ending. | September 1, 1998

 

Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine. Her fourth novel, Death was the Other Woman, will be published early in 2008 by St. Martin's Minotaur.