This Life is in your Hands


I seem to read books in pairs–thematic pairs, that is. This isn’t planned, it’s just how it seems to roll.

For example, I got an email from the library that two holds I’ve been waiting for had finally arrived: The Wilder Life (which I wrote about here) and This Life is in your Hands.

The link, in case you haven’t read these books, is homesteading.

Melissa Coleman has written an interesting memoir of her family’s efforts to homestead in the style of Helen and Scott Nearing in the late ’60s and early ’70s. In fact, just like Wendy McClure in The Wilder Life, Melissa Coleman and I are the same age. So I appreciated how vastly different her childhood experience was compared with mine.

Though I grew up in a small farming community, my folks lived in town. We had a large garden, didn’t use central air conditioning, and didn’t ever have cable TV (when it became available). My father hunted and fished and we ate what he caught.

But that’s pretty much where the similarities end between my life and Coleman’s. Her parents attempted to provide for all their needs from their hard scrabble farm in Maine where the growing season is shockingly short. They had no electricity, no indoor plumbing, and no meat. Her parents–and she by extension–were vegetarians.

Though the heart of the memoir revolves around the tragedy that “undoes” her family–the drowning of her younger sister–the bulk of the book focuses on her parents efforts to homestead and the costs that they would all pay, including nutritional-related health issues.

I was interested in this story for several reasons: I’m interested in homesteading, so I wanted to see how this thing went. I love Maine–it’s a great place–so I was into the setting. But then about a third of the way through the book I finally made the connections: Melissa Coleman is the daughter of famed organic farmer Eliot Coleman. We have already made plans to visit his farm, Four Seasons, this summer to see how he is growing food in Maine year round.

After I made that connection, I was hooked.

But I left the book unsure of whether I liked Eliot Coleman more or less. Melissa’s Mom and Dad did some pretty unbelievable things in this tale. I was saddened by what she endured.

But at the same time, I kept thinking that it was Melissa Coleman’s eight year old self that was writing this book. In large part, she is trying to work out the anger, bitterness, grudge, and grief that she has carried around with her about her childhood for the last 30 plus years. At times, it seemed like she treated the reader like a therapist, getting her frustrations out.

Problem is, I can’t offer her the redemption she seeks.

Still, it was an interesting read, even if it left me a bit sad for her. Maybe she’s been able to let go now that she’s gotten some of this out there.

One thought on “This Life is in your Hands

  1. Ahh, this pretty much encapsulates what I most love and dislike about memoir. I really like learning about lifestyles and viewpoints that are different than mine. However, I dislike it when I feel like the author is trying to justify themselves to the reader or when I feel like the author may have compromised the people in their life by being too explicit. I kind of felt this way after reading the memoir Smashed by Koren Zailckas.

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