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Page history last edited by RichiesPicks 10 years, 7 months ago

1 December 2006 THE OFF SEASON by Catherine Gilbert Murdock, Houghton Mifflin, June 2007, ISBN: 0-618-68695-9


"And I called my farm 'muscle in my arm'

But the land was sweet and good and I did what I could"

-- Traditional, "When I First Came to this Land"


If you have yet to read DAIRY QUEEN -- a Richie's Picks Best of 2006 title http://richiespicks.pbworks.com/DAIRY-QUEEN, and the book for which this is the sequel -- then you might hold off reading this review and, instead, go read DAIRY QUEEN first.


"All of a sudden he blurted out, 'You ever date a football player?'

"I thought for a minute about going to the movies with Troy Lundstrom. 'Not really.'

" 'Me neither,' he said, looking off over the trees." -- from DAIRY QUEEN


THE OFF SEASON picks up right where DAIRY QUEEN ends, with both the new school year and the official high school football season beginning while, at the same time, the relationship between DJ (Darlene Joyce) Schwenk and Brian Nelson is seriously revving up. For many readers, the humor and complexities in the evolving relationship between these two football players from rival high schools will serve quite well by itself in making this a great read.


Readers will also become thoroughly caught up in the thought-provoking and well-researched aspects of the book that deal with the grave, life-altering risks and consequences involved when twenty-two large, fast, and well-practiced players repeatedly smash into each other on the field of play:


"Everyone else stood up, getting off the ground in that way you do when you've hit the grass a million times in your life and you know you'll hit it a million more. I wanted to stand up too, stand like you always do. Because if you don't, it means that you're either really wimpy or really hurt, and who would want to be either one of those? But I couldn't."


But apart from the romance and the violence, the aspect of THE OFF SEASON upon which I've been reflecting involves the Schwenk farm serving as a model of so many of today's family farms across America -- at least, the ones that are still remaining in the face of new housing developments and the consolidation of family farms into the agribusinesses about which Eric Schlosser speaks in CHEW ON THIS http://richiespicks.pbworks.com/CHEW-ON-THIS!-EVERYTHING-YOU-DON'T-WANT-TO-KNOW-ABOUT-FAST-FOOD


"I might as well just quit high school right now and work for Dad, slaving away for eighteen hours a day while we lost even more money and after a century of backbreaking work had to sell to some developer who'd turn our beautiful soil into driveways and basements, and our cows into dinner."


"Scarecrow on a wooden cross, blackbird in the barn

Four hundred empty acres that used to be my farm

I grew up like my daddy did, my grandpa cleared this land

When I was five I walked the fence while grandpa held my hand

-- John Mellencamp "Rain on the Scarecrow"


I was a little kid on Long Island, far enough back in time that I can remember when there was still a dairy farm on Manetta Hill Road in Plainview (back when the Long Island Expressway only extended east to South Oyster Bay Road). When we moved east from Plainview to East Northport, there was still a dairy over on Jericho Turnpike in Elwood, and I'd walk along the periphery of hundreds of acres of potatoes and pumpkins each morning after they opened Grace Hubbs School in 1964. Meanwhile, Shari grew up out here, down in Silicon Valley when it was still full of apricot and plum orchards. Now that is all long gone, too.


In the upcoming Richard Peck book, ON THE WINGS OF HEROES, there is a very funny scene involving the young main character, his best friend, and an old car they find which had been manufactured locally by a company that only built a hundred or so of them before falling victim to the economies of scale that the larger manufacturers were already achieving back in the 1930s. We've all seen the disappearing family grocery stores, bookstores, stationary stores, hardware stores, and coffee shops. An old goatfarming friend of mine was complaining the other day because there is no longer a corner barbershop to go sit in and chat while waiting your turn, and so now he is required to make an appointment to go get a haircut in a corporate-owned salon.


There is a romanticism concerning family farms that remains alive in America. Kids are still growing up with CHARLOTTE'S WEB and Old McDonald's Farm just as we Baby Boomers did. But from back in the days that my grandfather was learning to read until the recent time when our current middle school students were learning to read, the farming population in America has dwindled from 32 million people to under 5 million. Does that romanticism mean that family farms are something to be supported and preserved in a way that has not been done for other businesses? A 1998 USDA study found that federal policies over the past couple of decades have actually favored agribusinesses over the family farms.


THE OFF SEASON will have many readers thinking about whether something should be done to help preserve this way of life. As with DAIRY QUEEN, it will certainly erase many a romantic notion about farming for some readers, and will undoubtedly ignite some notions of becoming a farmer for others.


Richie Partington





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