Spoiler alert! I’ll share a few details that may be considered spoilery. But I won’t share anything that would ruin your experience of reading the book.
I’m not drawn to many types of comic books or graphic novels, but sometimes the art and words are used in them in a way that I can absorb and feel and that doesn’t make my eyes wonder where they’re supposed to land on the page. When that happens, it’s pretty cool. When that happens, I feel like I’ve gotten the story from the pictures even more than the words.
This Country: Searching for Home in (Very) Rural America is one of those graphic novels. A memoir told through illustrations and words. If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to just pack up and move to the middle of nowhere, building a very (very) small house and just existing (maybe adding a baby to the mix?), this book will tell you how it might just turn out. Or, at least, how it did turn out for the author and his wife.
In short, This Country is a slow, gentle tale of what it’s like for two people to move to the country and take up some light homesteading. It’s about a couple who wanted to escape the expensive, busy, everyday. So they settled in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere Idaho.
The action takes place over a few years, and we see their experience unfold as they go through it. It takes on the slower pace of life in the country, and you find yourself savoring the images of their surroundings and the life they’ve built for themselves. Their experience is self-contained in the book, and we get to witness what it was like at the beginning, middle, and, yes, end of their experience living in that rural setting.
When they first arrived, the couple pretty quickly met some nice folks. These folks weren’t quite the same as them, but were helpful and tried to show them something about how to get by in that area of the world. The couple did eventually find that some of the townspeople had different enough political and social leanings that they didn’t feel like they belonged, or perhaps even felt completely safe there, long-term.
The graphic novel feels like a book, and is nice and heavy, made of high quality materials with sturdy construction. It is broken into sections, dividing up their time living in the country into rough chapters. Even though the book doesn’t share a complete continuity—I’m sure that not every aspect of their life during that time was included—you come away with a pretty clear understanding of what went on.
Throughout the book, you get to know some interesting people who lived nearby, and you get a small taste of what is like to live so isolated, with the nearest town having hardly any services. You learn about the history of the place—environmentally and culturally—with some politics thrown in.
The art of this book is lovely and expressive. Its simplicity really allows you to fill in the gaps with your own imaginings. But there are plenty of words to explain what is going on, and you’re left with impressions and feelings, and a wish to know the family better.
In the end, the story told in the book is about experiencing a different way of life, and about choosing what kind of normal you want your kids to grow up with. Babies and small kids take what they observe and experience at face value. They believe that what they see is normal and not unusual, because everything is new to them. They don’t have anything to compare it to. So having your kids grow up around hateful or harmful words and actions sends the wrong message to them, and they might get confused when their parents and their best friend say contradictory things. This book provides some food for thought in that area.
This Country: Searching for Home in (Very) Rural America is an honest retelling of the couple’s experience living in the country for a time. There aren’t preachy lessons inside, but there are plenty of valuable lessons to learn from their experience. Which ones you learn will depend on you.
I recommend this book for anyone who wonders what it might be like to live isolated in the country, in a conservative area, without having to actually go through it themselves. It will give you a taste of some of the hurdles you would need to jump over and the challenges you’d face. I appreciated it, because it’s like they lived out one version of a life so I didn’t have to.
Content Warnings for the book: Being that they live in the country, there is animal death, and it is mentioned and gently shown. Additionally, Trump is mentioned, and there is a fair amount of offensive language out of a few of the locals.
Note: I received a copy for review purposes.