Sunday, June 20, 2010

Review: Josh's Bucolic Plague

Is it possible to become delerious with ruralistic pursuits of ideal farm life? Can overwork, stress and a driving desire to sustain a centuries-old mansion in a recession be cured by homemade cheese, handmade soap and a bevy of loving goats? Can the fragrance of Martha Stewart's peonies intoxicate a person and cause him to lose all good judgment, sensibility and bladder control? The answers to these questions lie in the pages of Josh Kilmer Purcell's hilarious and surprisingly honest memoir called "The Bucolic Plague: How Two Manhattanites Became Gentlemen Farmers."

Josh is someone I consider to be a friend, even though I've only met him once at his glorious farm/mansion in Sharon Springs, New York: the Beekman, as it's known locally. His partner, Dr. Brent Ridge, is also someone I call a friend, though to this day we have not met in person. Our paths crossed in 2008 after I saw Brent on The Martha Stewart Show making soap with Martha using milk from the goats on his farm. At the time, Brent was the senior vice president of healthy living at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia and wrote a monthly column for the magazine. Always eager to blog, I wasted no time investigating their Beekman 1802 brand of handmade soaps and housewares and ordered a batch for myself - several batches in fact. The pair were so thankful for the free publicity (which I'm told brought much-needed traffic and sales to the Beekman) that they embraced me with open arms. We're friends to this day and I can't wait to return to Sharon Springs for another visit. (Hopefully celebrity and fame haven't gone to their heads too much, now that they have a hit reality show on Planet Green: The Fabulous Beekman Boys.) But back to the book...

My copy arrived a couple weeks ago, courtesy of Josh, and it coincided with the arrival of their "After the Garden" soap at the Anthropologie store where I work. I wasted little time using the beautiful soap wrapping as a bookmark, gluing it onto cardstock for firmness. I brought the book with me on my trip to Ottawa and I devoured it over the course of two days.

My first impression was how honest the book was, charting the good, the bad and the ugly sides of this dreamy pursuit of country living, which in reality is nothing like it is portrayed in the magazines. Josh examines the stresses and strains of starting a new business, maintaining a healthy relationship and building a dream as a couple, all the while attempting to enjoy the journey, the beautiful setting and the new community. His writing style is conversational and witty, making it easy to fall in love with the story being told.

Fans of Martha will not be disappointed either. She looms large in their lives (both idealistically and realistically) and Josh pens several very funny anecdotes about his encounters with Martha over the years, including a Fourth of July dinner at Lily Pond Lane and her famous Peony Party at Bedford - probably the most memorable Martha Moment the book contains!

What the reader is left with is a sense of admiration for these fabulous Beekman boys: for trying so hard to make a dream come true, for not slitting their wrists or killing each other in the face of desperate times and for letting an historic town, battered by a propeller of insufferable economies over the decades, capture their hearts and harness their determination to make their mark. You can order the book here.

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