“Freedom Farm” by Jennifer Neves; North Country Press, Unity, Maine, 2021; 156 pages, paperback, $15.95.

Jennifer Neves’s book of autobiographical essays, “Freedom Farm,” tells stories of the author’s life growing up on a farm in Freedom, and then more stories of continuing that life in adulthood, down the road in Palermo where she lives now.

The first part of the collection unfolds adventures she had as a daughter of undeterred loyalty to her family. Her father is a quirky character who, for example, one morning before church decides to burn off some unwanted bramble, but quickly loses control of the blaze and enlists help putting it out from the kids. Her mother is the ever-patient, wise center of the household. Her brothers alternately torture and protect her, and she loves them every minute, seemingly. She learns to grow beans and work the earth. The family is united in a chronic war with the neighboring Gundersons, who are constantly doing things like stealing the family’s turkeys and calling the cops on their pig. In the second part of the book, we hear stories of her own children and husband, and the exploits of her irrepressible dog Tulip Petunia, on the farm in Palermo.

Explicit emphasis is placed, in keeping with certain literary concerns of our time, on the importance of “story” in people’s lives. Theoretical ruminations on the topic pop up at odd times, drawing us out of the narrative spell. But when events themselves flow, we encounter a childlike sense of wonder, a sometimes Nora Ephron-like sense of humor, and overall, a feeling of great love for the people and places, with hardly a shred of negative feeling. The most affecting piece in the book, in my reading, is a short encomium on her son Ezra, atmospherically recounting the harrowing night that his home birth went awry. It is an uninterrupted outpouring of intertwined fear and love, ending: “The night you were born was the first of June and I carry it every day as a reminder of how lucky we all are to know you. Welcome home.”

“Freedom Farm” bears some resemblances to “Half a Bubble Off Plumb: The News from Two Dits Farm,”  another book of homesteading essays by Sheila Gilluly (who could conceivably have been one of Jennifer Neves’s teachers at Mount View High School). “Freedom Farm” is available from North Country Press  and local and online book sellers.

Off Radar takes note of poetry and books with Maine connections the first and third Thursdays of each month. Dana Wilde is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. Contact him at [email protected].

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