Vicki's Reviews > This Life Is in Your Hands: One Dream, Sixty Acres, and a Family Undone

This Life Is in Your Hands by Melissa Coleman
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Jun 27, 2011

it was ok
bookshelves: library-books, non-fiction, memoirs
Recommended to Vicki by: IndieBound Next List
Read from June 27 to July 02, 2011

2.5 stars. Better than okay, but not quite ... well, just not quite. Firstly, I would hesitate to even call this a memoir. It affected the fiction of being from Melissa's POV throughout, but that was a very awkward fit for most of the book. Writing about how her mom's pupils contracted the first time she saw her dad? Recounting the Nearing's reactions to finding out that her mom was pregnant? And even later, when she actually existed in the timeline, it really didn't ring true. Was 4 year old Melissa really meditating on the fact that tree roots spread below her in a near-mirror image to the branches above her while she lay in the woods? Was her first reaction to a snail shell really the miracle that the curve of the spiral was exactly like a fiddlehead fern? I mean, these are clearly the musings of a later Melissa Coleman, and normally that'd be fine, but the way that the book was framed kept pulling me out to shake my head at the central conceit: that this is an actual memoir. Coming, you know, from her memory.

So what was it? Kind of a joint biography of her parents, using source materials like her mom's journals and interviews with people that stayed on the farms in those years, and also her memories. Only the last 15 pages or so seem to authentically come from her own recollections and pertain to her own experiences as she experienced them, as opposed to her "experiences" in the sense that, yes, she was there on that same farm at the same time as these happenings. And as a joint biography it was interesting, if a little self-important. Her parents were on the leading edge of the back-to-the-land movement (though you could be forgiven for thinking her father had invented organic farming singlehandedly, based on the first half of the book), and their struggles and successes are compelling. She overcontextualizes in a way that could feel condescending (any time her parents did something hippieish, she not only describes it, but then reminds the reader that this was in the same year that [X] happened, and their hippieish action was both BRAVE and COUNTERCULTURE and very much OUTSIDE OF THE MAINSTREAM. We know. You're writing about the 70s, not the Middle Ages. You can assume some familiarity), and the pages upon pages of describing springtime plants coming back to life felt in need of editing by the third year in a row. Also, wow with the name dropping in the last quarter of the book -- especially since these are still just names of people that are only recognizable to a very small circle. "So and so was at the same conference ... you might know him from his successful heirloom seed catalogue?" Holy Hipster Memoir, Batman.

Obviously the big moment in the book is when her little sister dies. Which is horrible and heartbreaking. And as much as I spent the first 2/3ds of the book thinking that she should've reimagined it as a powerful short story or as source material for a novel, I did think she handled this part of the book well: it was better paced, felt more honest, and felt like a story that needed telling rather than just a tale that I might as well keep reading.

I guess my takeaway is that if you're very interested in homesteading, off-the-gridding, self-sufficiency, or 60s/70s counterculture movements, this book might be worth your time. For me, and I do have a greater than passing interest in most of those things, it was just so-so. I don't regret having read it, but I can't think of anyone I'd recommend it to either. So ... I guess that's my helpful review? :/
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06/21/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-1 of 1) (1 new)

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Miri This is exactly how I felt about it, and you did a much better job summing up my feelings than I did. :)


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