‘A Country Called Home’ by Kim Barnes

  Kim Barnes, author of “In the Wilderness,” a finalist for the 1997 Pulitzer Prize, returns to the rugged lands of Idaho in her new novel, “A Country Called Home.”
  Thomas Deracotte and his pregnant wife, Helen, reject the wealth guaranteed by staying in Connecticut with Helen’s family and embrace a life of nature and self-sufficiency after buying a rundown farmhouse in a remote part of Idaho.
  The buildings are falling apart and the farmland ruined, but the couple pitch a tent and find plenty of fish in the river and berries in the fields. Thomas, a physician, is determined to rebuild the farm, but he discovers his doctor’s hands are not skilled enough for this type of labor. He hires a local boy, Manny, to manage the land in return for food and shelter. Together they form a small family. Their world expands when Helen gives birth to twins, a girl and boy, but only the daughter, Elise, survives. The death of their son is a secret between the couple. They keep their grief to themselves, not even sharing their sadness with each other.
  With help from Manny, Helen spends her days taking care of the baby, while Thomas takes to whiling away the hours fishing. He puts off starting his medical practice, instead, obsessively heading to the river, which eventually will take more than it gives to Thomas.
  Their life of isolation slowly turns to loneliness and loneliness to madness. Thomas neglects his relationship with his wife, driving Helen into a darkness all her own. Helen’s unmet needs eventually are passed on to Elise, who struggles to find her own identity as her father sinks further into despair. And throughout, is Manny — a shoulder for all and witness to everything.
  “A Country Called Home” is poetically written. The vivid descriptions of the land paint a romantic portrait of the wilderness, where the couple dream they’ll find their ideal life but soon discover that nothing comes easy.
  Barnes begins Part One with a quote from John Gardner:
  “The fall from grace is endless.”
  And for the Deracotte family it is indeed. Thomas falls to despair. Helen falls to loneliness. Elise, she falls, too.
  But it is with Elise that Barnes offers hope. Bolstered by Manny, who becomes a substitute father, Elise negotiates young adulthood and searches for the redemption she needs to move toward her future, away from the inherited sorrow that has molded her past.


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