Title: The Bucolic Plague: How Two Manhattanites Became Gentlemen Farmers: An Unconventional Memoir
Author: Josh Kilmer-Purcell
Acquired: Received from the publisher for review
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/.
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!