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 Fiction Review   

 

 

Harvest
By Catherine Landis
Thomas Dunne Books, 2004
Hardcover, $23.95 (338 pages)
ISBN: 0-312-28723-2
 
 
 

Surely someone, somewhere, is teaching a course on literature about the disappearance of the American farm/farmer. Harvest by Catherine Landis is the most recent book -- in a lineage that includes (mixing fiction and memoir) Howard Kohn's The Last Farmer, Curtis Harnack's We Have All Gone Away and The Attic, Verlyn Klinkenborg's Making Hay and The Rural Life, Ann Mohan's The Farm She Was, and Leila Phillip's A Family Place -- about a dying way of life.  

Evoking tradition while understanding the inevitablity of change, three generations of the Greene family have lived on the family farm, located outside of Knoxville, Tennessee. (A fourth, earlier, generation's story is fold in flashback.) 

As an old man, Arliss seems hard. Having worked the farm his entire life, he's witnessed enough to know the ways the lifestyle destroys more sensitive, lesser spirits.  Having watched as his father was trampled to death by a herd of cattle, Arliss a bit ambivalent about forcing both of his sons to work the land. Merle, his wife, finds a job working off the farm, and subtly urges her dreamier, younger son, Daniel, to do the same. 

To everyone's surprise, when Daniel marries, his wife Leda, "a city girl," is aesthetically, spiritually, and physically drawn to the farm. Instinctively, she understands ways to make the farm more profitable and more beautiful. Working alongside her father-in-law, she absorbs more about farming than Daniel learned in his childhood. 

Proximity doesn't always breed intimacy. The two generations, Arliss and Merle, Daniel and Leda, aren't always pleased with one another. The cultural and sociological changes in the South from the 1960s through the 1990s are played out in their family as subtle domestic battles rather than raging unforgiving wars.  

Harvest is a bittersweet look at inevitable changes and perseverance in a family.

 

Pam Kingsbury
Southern Scribe Reviews

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