Thursday, June 9, 2011

Review: This Life is in Your Hands

This is Coleman's memoir of growing up on a homesteading farm in rural Maine in the 1970s. Coleman's parents moved to the backwoods of Maine to experiment with organic farming and self-sufficient living. The early years were idyllic, but things deteriorated.

Coleman's parents had been warned that homesteading with children was nearly impossible. The stress of managing Coleman and her two sisters, combined with postpartum depression, threw her mother into a tailspin of despair. The vitamin deficiencies in the family's self-produced diet affected moods and energy.

As the Colemans' efforts gained notoriety a series of apprentices shifted through the homestead, and Coleman's parents' marriage deteriorated. The final straw was the accidental death of Coleman's sister Heidi. Much of the book tells the story of the slow deterioration of the Coleman family.

This books offers a fascinating look inside the homesteading movement, and inside a family. The Colemans lived at the center of the Maine homesteading community. Their farm was adjacent to that of Helen and Scott Nearing, and the Nearings play a significant role in the book. Melissa's childhood was tragic in many ways- a little girl, desperate for friends and parental attention, her needs were generally secondary to a larger ideology. The farm was an all-consuming project, and its residual side-effects left little affective or attentive surplus for Melissa. My one complaint about the book is that it could be shorter; there were times I found it repetitive. This does serve to suggest the constant demands of the homestead, but I still think it could have been trimmed. This is a memoir well-worth reading.

Melissa Coleman, This Life is in Your Hands (Harper, 2011) ISBN: 0061958328

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