I’ve become very interested in “second novels,” having published my own in January. After reading and enjoying Loretta Malakie’s Love in the Age of Dispossession I was thus very interested when I heard some months ago she was writing a second book, The Gentleman Farmers.
Maggie Kingsbury, single middle-aged alcoholic lawyer, joins her in-laws Molly and Kevin on a homestead in the mountains of North Carolina, where their trustafarian college frenemies Brock and Sandra have just bought their third home. Molly commissions Brock to renovate an old Appalachian tobacco barn on their property. But when maverick hillbilly throwback Uncle Billy shows up to live in their field in a camper van, power struggles ensue. Meanwhile, Kevin has become dangerously obsessed with breeding heritage livestock. When Maggie’s beloved niece Juliet asks her to take on a mysterious client, Maggie becomes implicated in a national political furor.
A second novel should be better than the first in a lot of ways–after all, the author has experience, the author has practice. Even more important, at least in my experience the author has confidence, that he or she can get the job done. Even in the times I was struggling the most with my second book, I felt like if I just kept pushing words out it would all work together. And it did.
Meanwhile Ms. Malakie was working on The Gentlemen Farmers, and as much as I liked Love in the Age of Dispossession, in some ways this second novel is a better book, a little smoother, a little better edited, and quite a bit funnier. There are more “laugh out loud” moments here, but Malakie hasn’t lost her touch when it comes to illustrating, and mourning, the gradual degradation of Normal America, small town America, where people got along, had children, where children knew their grandparents and aunts and uncles. That’s gone now, in much of America, but Maggie Kingsbury is old enough to remember it and describe it to us, and how it was lost, or taken away, by our so-called “elites,” through immigration and “offshoring,” all of it to fatten the bottom lines of multinational corporations.
The characters in The Gentleman Farmers only come to realize this gradually, as their small New York town becomes unlivable, and as their new North Carolina area begins to show the cracks, as well. It’s the teenager Juliet that points out that becoming gentleman farmers, cultivating heirloom tomatoes and heritage breeds, has become a substitute for cultivating our own culture and heritage. The author connects the current “statue wars” to the same situation in a neat package, and it becomes clear, how all of it’s connected.
Comedy, tragedy, love, life and death, Malakie deftly handles them all in The Gentleman Farmers. As “second novels” or any novels go, it’s terrific and highly recommended.
Love in the Age of Dispossession on Amazon
The Gentleman Farmers on Amazon