The Bucolic Plague – Josh Kilmer-Purcell (HarperCollins)

Buy it now from or from our store to help support our site The Bucolic Plague: How Two Manhattanites Became Gentlemen Farmers: An Unconventional Memoir
The “city-boy-getting-back-to-the-land” memoir is almost as clichéd as the “substance-abuser-finds-redemption” variant, and as wonderful as it would be to have someone re-invent this wheel, it won’t happen. Its tread is too deeply imprinted on our collective consciousness, but Josh Kilmer-Purcell takes full advantage of its rich comedic and dramatic potential in his new book, The Bucolic Plague.
The plot is simple: ad man Kilmer-Purcell and his partner, Brent (an employee of Martha Stewart) fall in love with the Beekman Mansion in upstate New York, using their weekends and holidays to turn it into a working farm with the ultimate goal of making bucolic bliss their full-time occupation. Aided by their able gay goat-herding groundskeeper, Farmer John, they grow veggies, breed goats and make soap – realizing, in the process, that country living is not always what it’s cracked up to be. 
It’s an old story, to be sure, and I’d be lying if I didn’t say that at times I felt like I’d read this book before. I have. The “fish-out-of-water” episodes proceed without deviating from the tried and true formula. Purcell’s career in advertising allows him to relate these in a winning and witty way, so they’re enjoyable and engaging. But that’s not what differentiates The Bucolic Plague from other country life memoirs. 
Purcell and Dr. Brent have a pretty solid relationship that Beekman Farm comes close to wrecking through constant work, aggravation and maintenance. Purcell does not steer away from this strife, nor does he make himself (or the relationship) the victim. He looks at the problem with insight and all the self-actualization he can muster. And he’s able to take the reader behind the goat barn and the veggie garden into the love/hate feelings he has for the land and what it does to him. The reader isn’t sure whether or not the couple will withstand their place in the country, and this gives The Bucolic Plague a tension its competitors don’t have. 
That said, the boys now have the reality TV series (The Fabulous Beekman Boys) they “audition” for in one of the most revealing chapters here, making this book—as good as it is—seem like one more brick in a wall of market branding. That cheapens its effect for me, but what the hell…Purcell is merely taking advantage of his God-given right to sell himself for as many bucks as he can get. Maybe I’m just jealous because he’s talented, tall, handsome and knows Martha Stewart personally. I might even buy a bar of that goat’s-milk soap. 
But not a sequel. 
Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler

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