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Halfway through Josh Kilmer-Purcell’s The Bucolic Plague, I started taking notes for this review and was ready to call it the perfect summer read, ideal for those pockets or time lying on a beach, traveling on a train, or sitting in a coffeehouse. Finishing the book, I realized that I was not giving it the full credit it deserved. It moved from a being a story perfectly designed for bite-sized nuggets to a rich, luscious narrative deserving more time and attention to digest.
I have been a huge fan of Kilmer-Purcell’s since his 2006 memoir I Am Not Myself These Days, which chronicles the time he spent as a vodka-soaked drag queen dating a crack-addicted escort with a specialty in sadomasochism. Hearing that he had written a book detailing how he and his partner Brent (who is not the escort in his first book) bought a historic homestead in upstate New York and began transforming it back into a working farm startled me, I admit. How does one get from drunkenly stumbling around lower Manhattan in the grey hours before dawn to dealing with goat diarrhea and crowing roosters at sunrise?
The nuggets I mention above fill the first half of the book. Josh and Brent had developed very successful careers in New York City, Brent with Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia and Josh with a downtown advertising agency. Quite spontaneously, they decide to buy Beekman Mansion in Sharon Spring, New York. Practically overnight, they have the makings of a completely new life in their hands without decreasing any of the trappings of their old life. Back and forth they move between homes and experiences. A lot of the stories made me smile, whether they are encountering ghosts in the house or learning to use a tiller through trial-and-error (and bruised shins). They transform themselves as well as the house and farm, and Kilmer-Purcell writes about it with wit and charm.
Of course, as well as know, things changed for a lot of people with the economic downturn. They found themselves with two mortgages and Brent out of a job, which is when the story finds its depth. They struggle, and Kilmer-Purcell puts it all on the page. Their bickering becomes a cold silence with no end in sight, and I worried about them. I worried about their co-farmer John and the goats. I worried about the townspeople who had become their friends. Brent works diligently to transform the Beekman into a working farm selling goat’s milk soap and other products online through their brand, Beekman 1802, but the economy affects that, too, of course. Just like in Julie Powell’s phenomenally successful Julie and Julie, a story in the New York Times comes along with the power to change things. Change, however, is never easy.
The book coincides with the premiere of The Fabulous Beekman Boys on Planet Green, part of the Discovery Channel’s group of networks. Beekman mansion is not shuttered, but Josh and Brent are nowhere near being able to kick back, either. In other words, The Bucolic Plague tells a story most of us can understand, a story about work, love, challenges, and compromise. Goat diarrhea may sometimes be inevitable, but a few baby wipes might make it all better until the next challenge comes along.
THE BUCOLIC PLAGUE:
How Two Manhattanites Became Gentlemen Farmers
By Josh Kilmer-Purcell
Hardcover, $24.99, 302p