The Page Boy

By E.B. Boatner August 13, 2010

Categories: Books, Our Affairs

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The Bucolic Plague: How Two Manhattanites Became Gentlemen Farmers
Josh Kilmer-Purcell
Harper/Collins
$24.99

In his hilarious and harrowing I Am Not Myself These Days (2006), Kilmer-Purcell wore spangles, stiletto heels, and his signature plastic bra containing live goldfish. In The Bucolic Plague, the author, in boots and overalls, contrives to bring the hilarious and the harrowing to the village of Sharon Springs, New York, with his livestock now some 88 goats. In brief, he and his partner, Brent Ridge, buy the Beekman Mansion (circa 1802), thinking to raise a few vegetables and goats, then go whole-hog into being full-time gentleman farmers. Physical, mental, and spousal strains become almost unbearable, bringing the harrowing to a near boil, alleviated by the hilarious. Kilmer-Purcell has a keen sense of the ludicrous, but he can cut to the heart of the partners’ relationship: “And we never forget to say ‘I love you’ before walking out the door. Because if you start forgetting to say ‘I love you’ before you walk out a door, it’s too easy to forget that you do.”

Just Kids
Patti Smith
Bloomsbury Publishing
$27

This moving memoir cum memorial of Smith’s life with Robert Mapplethorpe evokes the intensity of their emotions, as well as a certain artistic ferment of life in New York of the 1960s and 1970s. Both were born in 1946. Most of this book takes place when the two were “just kids,” before Mapplethorpe produced his iconic, iconoclastic photographic work until his death from AIDS in 1989. The two met in 1967. They lived what Smith describes as a spartan, near fairy-tale existence, ensconced in the mythical Chelsea hotel, and eating at Horn and Hardart automats. They were surrounded by luminaries Janis Jopin, Jimi Hendrix, and Sam Shepard (with whom Smith wrote Cowboy Mouth), plus other stars in the artistic firmament. Smith shows a keen eye for detail and a sharp ear for dialogue, her storytelling wide but never self-indulgent. Her prose is tough and witty, sentimental without becoming maudlin. Dying, Mapplethorpe laments, “We never had any children.” Smith replies, “Our work was our children.”

North Country: The Making of Minnesota
Mary Lethert Wingerd
University of Minnesota Press
$34.95

They say history is written by the winners, but author Wingerd comes as close as possible to being an objective investigator here, examining just what went into the making of Minnesota—at what cost, and to whom. In the beginning, isolation and climate extremes made the North Country less attractive to westward-driving settlers. Thus, for some 200 years, what would become the 32nd state was home to Native peoples, mixed-breeds, and Europeans, their relationship stabilized through intermarriage, kinship, and trade. Increasing Western expansion, American capitalism, and the United States government’s violation of existing treaties rendered the lives of the Natives untenable, leading to the Sioux Uprising and the shameful execution of 38 Dakotas in 1862 in Mankato. Meticulously researched, with more than 170 illustrations and maps, North Country is an important book, stripping away the veneer of historical romance and selective memory to show what was done to real human beings so we might enjoy our comfortable “Minnesota nice.”

Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality
Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá
Harper/Collins $25.99

Written in an almost chatty style, Sex nevertheless makes a serious point: We (human primates) did not emerge from the dawn of time in monogamous, nuclear families, as Victorian scientists and current religious factions hold sacred, but rather from small, egalitarian forager groups (sharing food, shelter, and—yes—sex). What undid these societies was the introduction of agriculture, which led to slavery; diminished rank for women; the need to own and expand land holdings; and, inevitably, war. Why, the authors ask, should all the powers of the state and religion be necessary to enforce (unsuccessfully) the bonds of monogamous marriages with violence and eternal vigilance if it is such a natural and inbred habit? In fact, they offer proof in many areas—from the male’s outsize testes and intriguingly wrought penis to the female’s copulatory vocalizations—to show that things are not always what they seem. Should be required reading for the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) and others strident groups of its ilk.

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