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Review: The Bucolic Plague by Josh Kilmer-Purcell

Review: The Bucolic Plague by Josh Kilmer-Purcell post image

Title: The Bucolic Plague: How Two Manhattanites Became Gentlemen Farmers: An Unconventional Memoir
Author: Josh Kilmer-Purcell
Genre: Memoir
Year: 2010
Acquired: Received from the publisher for review
Rating: ★★★★☆

One Sentence Summary: A gay Manhattan couple buys an old mansion and starts to experiment with a life as gentleman farmers complete with goats, tomatoes and drama.

One Sentence Review: The Beekman Boys’ backgrounds and sense of humor help the book be a unique addition to the growing canon of back-to-the-farm memoirs.

Why I Read It: I love farming memoirs, and this one seemed like a fun concept for the genre.

Long Review: The thing about farming memoirs is that they have a tendency to be a little bit the same. After all, life on the farm is cyclical and so lots of the same things happen: picking out seeds, taking care of vegetables and animals, having way to many crops to can and preserve, debating the ethics of killing a Thanksgiving turkey, buckling down for the winter, running out of canned food and yearning towards spring.

This means that any new memoir of this kind has to have some sort of twist to keep it interesting. For The Bucolic Plague by Josh Kilmer-Purcell, it’s the characters and brutal honesty that keep the farming memoir fresh.

Kilmer-Purcell and his partner, Dr. Brent Ridge, are two Manhattanites living a pretty fabulous life. Kilmer-Purcell is a writer, former drag queen, and ad agency executive. Ridge works as a healthy lifestyle consultant for Martha Stewart. During one fall weekend trip to upstate New York they come across the Beekman Mansion, an old farm that’s for sale. They fall in love with the place and implusively decide to buy it.

Kilmer-Purcell and Ridge then hire Farmer John to come help them with the property. Farmer John brings his goats, starting the “Beekman Boys” off on their adventure as gentleman farmers.

Unlike other farming memoirs I’ve read, life for the Beekman Boys is not always smooth – partially by their own mistakes and partially from the pressure they put on themselves. Before moving out to Beekman full-time, Ridge worked and believed in the mantra of Martha Stewart, making him a consummate perfectionist and a contrast to Kilmer-Purcell’s more Oprah-esque “live your best life” philosophy.

This memoir is at its best when the Beekman Boys are on the farm having fun and interacting with people in their town, Sharon Springs. The towns’ cautious acceptance of Kilmer-Purcell and Ridge as gentleman farmers was fun to read. Also, I love the phrase “gentleman farmers” so I’ll probably be using it a lot.

Kilmer-Purcell and Ridge are also fun to read about. At the beginning of the memoir, they have a very carefree and humorous relationship with each other. But as farm life gets hectic their relationship is strained, and that part of the story is not at all sugar-coated. I felt like I was always rooting for them to work it out though, in part because of how great the beginning was.

The memoir is slightly less interesting when it gets too bogged down in the ongoing Martha versus Oprah dynamic between Ridge and Kilmer-Purcell. While I get the comparison, and think it does a lot to explain some of the conflict between the Beekman Boys, it could get to be a little bit too much.

Another thing I thought was interesting was the discussion of growing a brand. About midway through the book, the boys decide to start a brand of artisan soaps and other products from the milk that Farmer John’s goats produce. These products will also help them keep the farm, and perhaps allow them to move their full time rather than living a dual life between Manhattan and Silver Springs.

After that decision, the book is a lot about their building of the brand – a website, products, and even themselves. As soon as the Beekman Boys have an argument about whether they were starting to become the brand rather than themselves, it’s hard not to have that in the back of your head while reading and start to wonder how much of the memoir is also part of the brand building project.

Right now Kilmer-Purcell and Ridge are also part of a new reality tv show on Planet Green called “The Fabulous Beekman Boys,” which starts up after the book ends. I watched the first couple episodes and thought they were pretty funny, if a little heavy on relationship drama. If you have cable, I’d suggest checking it out (or watching episodes online), but suggest reading the book first since the show might have some “spoilers.”

You can also read more about Beekman 1802 and the Beekman Boys on their website, http://beekman1802.com/.

Other Reviews: Booklust | Fizzy Thoughts | Linus’s BlanketBook Sexy Review |

If you have reviewed this book, please leave a link to the review in the comments and I will add your review to the main post. All I ask is for you to do the same to mine — thanks!

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Trisha July 10, 2010, 8:10 am

    I tend to steer clear of back to the farm memoirs, in large part because I’m married to a farmer and live in a farming community, so for me there is nothing romantic, quaint, unusual, or return-to-my-roots-esque about farming. But this one looks so interesting that I might have to pick it up.

    • Kim July 13, 2010, 8:53 pm

      Trisha: Yeah, if I lived on a farm I’d probably not read the genre either. I feel like I’d get annoyed with people being so romantic about the whole thing. This one has a different concept though — if you can get it from the library I’d suggest reading the first few chapters to see what you think. Kilmer-Purcell is really funny.

  • diane July 10, 2010, 8:14 am

    I am anxious to read this one –sounds good.

    • Kim July 13, 2010, 8:54 pm

      diane: It was good, I hope you get to read it.

  • bermudaonion (Kathy) July 10, 2010, 9:15 am

    I saw one of them on Martha Stewart, so I’m really interested in reading this book. I’m glad to see you enjoyed it so much!

    • Kim July 13, 2010, 8:55 pm

      Kathy: There are some scenes in the book where the Boys take some goats on Martha Stewart — I wonder if those were the segments you saw? That would be weird and cool!

  • Esme July 10, 2010, 10:42 am

    I have been seeing this one around and am interested in reading it-PS-I am with you I do not purchase many books-my husband when he does -just goes for it-never mind that I may have a gift card at home-or discount coupon.

    • Kim July 13, 2010, 8:55 pm

      Esme: I think you’d like this one, there are some really luscious food scenes in it after the garden gets going.

  • Aarti July 10, 2010, 10:47 am

    I enjoyed this book, but I agree with you that it stretched the whole Martha-Oprah thing a bit too far (probably to get on both shows? I don’t know). I also thought it was interesting that there were like, five gay guys in ONE tiny New York village. That seemed unlikely (not that it’s untrue, but I would have liked to know why everyone went to that one town?).

    • Kim July 13, 2010, 8:56 pm

      Aarti: I don’t know if it was to get on the shows, but the metaphor does get stretched just a little bit. And yeah, I thought that point was sort of odd but also cool. I think it probably says something about what a good town it is to live in.

  • Care July 10, 2010, 10:49 am

    Great review. I wonder where I put my copy… I think I’ll move it higher on the pile. Are there great photos of the architecture?

    • Kim July 13, 2010, 8:56 pm

      Care: There aren’t any photos in the book, but there are a lot of cool ones of the house on their website.

  • Gwen July 10, 2010, 11:27 am

    See, I liked the whole Martha/Oprah part of it and got a lot out of it. Admittedly, they were throwing out big names, trying to sell their brand and the show, but the message that I took from it was that in the end, it is important to be yourself, not the images that Oprah and Martha are selling on TV.

    I haven’t liked the show half as much as the book.

    • Kim July 13, 2010, 8:58 pm

      Gwen: I think the comparison does work for a lot of the book. It helps contrast the Beekman Boys. I just thought it got a little over done in the end, but agree that their conclusions about how neither one is really the best way to live your life.

      I only watched two episodes and thought they were ok. I feel like the relationship drama is getting played up a little bit rather than farm stories, but maybe that’ll change, I don’t know?

  • tolmsted (BookSexyReview) July 10, 2010, 1:24 pm

    First, thanks for linking back to my review!

    I think you make a really good point when you say: “As soon as the Beekman Boys have an argument about whether they were starting to become the brand rather than themselves, it’s hard not to have that in the back of your head while reading and start to wonder how much of the memoir is also part of the brand building project.” I thought about that a lot after viewing the television show – whether or not it was authentic. But then I realized, I don’t really have a right to the ‘authentic’ private life of the Beekman Boys… I mean, they are entitled to their privacy and if the show is the face they want to present to the audience who am I to gripe (I hope that made sense). I think that may be one of the biggest problems with reality t.v.

    I am a complete sucker for farm memoirs as well. BookCourt (http://www.bookcourt.org/) has a great list of farm books included in their “Guests for Dinner”, July 5th post.

    • Kim July 13, 2010, 9:00 pm

      tolmsted: You make a great point. Of course there will be personas on the show — that’s just what happens. But especially after watching the show (where Josh goes to a book reading for the memoir) there seemed like a lot of overlap with the ideas of the brand and the memoir. It wasn’t fishy or anything, just something I couldn’t help thinking about after all the talk of blog branding that’s been happening.

      Thanks for the link to BookCourt!

  • softdrink July 10, 2010, 5:37 pm

    agree about the branding…that was going through my mind, as well. But then, Kilmer-Purcell is in advertising.

    And I made the mistake of clicking on that link to Book Court in the above comment…I think I just added ten books to my want list!

    • Kim July 13, 2010, 9:01 pm

      softdrink: I’m sort of afraid to click on the link for fear of too many books, but I’m going to soon 🙂

  • Thomas at My Porch July 11, 2010, 10:25 am

    Just watched an episode of this the other night and was a little annoyed by it all. They don’t really seem to know the first thing about farming and it seemed like the book and the show were all just a part of a ploy by two well connected, media savvy guys who wanted to start a “lifestyle” brand. The ignorance of the two about the goats on their own farm was startling.

    • Kim July 13, 2010, 9:03 pm

      Thomas at My Porch: Well, the goats were Farmer John’s and the boys worked on a lot of other stuff, so I sort of get why they don’t know much about them. But I do agree that the book and show seem pretty well-connected, and that it’s hard to read the memoir without at least thinking about how it’s part of a bigger image for Beekman 1802.

  • Jeane July 11, 2010, 11:49 am

    I like farming memoirs. I’ve been wanting to read this one. Funny, none of the other reviews I read mentioned the branding thing (or maybe I just didn’t notice).

    • Kim July 13, 2010, 9:04 pm

      Jeane: I might have only noticed it because I’ve been paying attention to the blog branding debates going on lately, so branding and image are in the front of my brain. I can’t remember of other people mentioned it or not…

  • Jennifer July 15, 2010, 10:09 am

    Sounds very interesting. I love the phrase “gentleman farmers” too. And I would definitely be interested in the parts about building your brand. Stories like this fascinate me.

    • Kim July 15, 2010, 4:45 pm

      Jennifer: I thought it was fascinating too. It’s a good story, with lots of the sorts of things I find interesting (like the branding).