Martha McPhee fled with her family from pandemic-stricken Manhattan to her rural childhood home near Princeton, N.J., in March 2020. The novelist anticipated caring for her ailing mother and protecting her teenage children. In her revealing memoir, Omega Farm, McPhee (An Elegant Woman; Dear Money) relates resurrected memories and the challenges of repairing the sprawling property, including reclaiming its 35 acres of neglected forest.
With her mother "vanished into dementia," Martha determined to "fix the present" while grappling with the "spell of the past." Life at Omega Farm began when her parents separated in 1969. Her mother fell in love with a charismatic free spirit and moved to the dilapidated farmhouse where their merged families totaled nine kids. Their bohemian lifestyle was "neither farm nor utopia, but mostly, really, a big sprawling chaotic mess with Neil Young playing from speakers nailed to the trees." McPhee juxtaposes memories of the 1970s at Omega Farm with the insecurities of the early 2020s in an honest, sometimes self-critical, narrative. She confronts past hurts, nurtures her struggling children, and admirably commits to the Herculean task of salvaging the farm. She confronts a collapsed septic system, invasive species, and borers decimating her ash trees. Effectively noting the impact of small family forests on the climate, she writes, "you answer the call to fix something broken in your mom's house--and an entire ecosystem shudders and wobbles and swings into view." Omega Farm is a moving memoir and an inspiring testament to forgiveness and hope. --Cheryl McKeon, Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza, Albany, N.Y.