Maybe this post is cheating a little bit. I am currently facilitating an alumni book club for my MFA university and this is a bit of what I said for my meet & greet. I love book clubs, think they are absolutely necessary to my general well being and actually mean to start the one I've had in my head shortly (shortly being in January...) I love the alumni book club because it ends up being highly intellectual, and if there are not too many people, usually quite in depth. I wanted to support the process, so I volunteered to facilitate one of the alumni book clubs. At the time, I volunteered thinking I'd pick one of my many, much-loved science fiction or fantasy novels to share and discuss. If I have a specialty, the transmundane is it.
So why did I go from the height of speculative fiction to non-fiction, and not only non-fiction but memoir?
For me, Trauma Farm was one of those books I couldn't get out of my head.
More often than not, I find a book strikes a single chord with me – it's entertaining, or thoughtful, or persuasive – and I can put it down, its impact on my perception of the world rather limited. A book might challenge me through argument, appeal to me through intellect, alter me through imagery – but rarely does it attack me on more than one level. This wasn't true of Trauma Farm.
The shape of the story, its structure, immediately grabbed me. On page 3 Brian says, "I realized the only way I could write this memoir was by association -- a walk through a summer's day -- the June day of solstice...an eighteen-year-long day that includes both the past and the future of living on the land..."
This structure calls to mind the Arabian Nights tales in that you know when you start to read Trauma Farm, you're not going to be told a single story, and the telling of those stories, the narrative, is not going to be linear. The chronology isn't linear and instead 18 years are addressed over a single day, with each story belonging to a different place in time. Additionally, a whole history of natural farming is discussed within this framework. So when you read Trauma Farm, what you have to be prepared for is that one story might start and stop, only for another story to be told in full and followed by a story that had been paused earlier on. And each of these stories contributes to the overall Story of Trauma Farm, the memoir, but also adds to other elements of the work, such as the political or environmental messages.
Another reason I chose Trauma Farm was for the poetry – and I don't mean to only refer to the distinct poems that come later in the book, but rather the innate rhythm and resonance of the words and how carefully crafted each images is and how so many of them contribute to the themes of loss and control and the relationship between the two. One of my favourite moments in the book is on page 249 when Brett describes his experience with barbed wire:
Barbed wire, "the devil's rope," is a monstrous creation. We picked up a couple of rolls of barbed wire in our early years, mostly to wrap around the base of the cages (animals go under, through, and over fences) built to protect our fruit trees from deer and livestock. My history with barbed wire consists of five years of putting it up and ten painful years of untangling it and taking it to the recycling yard -- and I have the scars to prove it. Barbed wire will grow right into the ground, wrap around anything moving (including the sheep or me or the horse), generally endangering lives, temperament, and skin. It can spring the fencing nails out of a rotten cedar post and attack you from thirty feet away. The dogs love watching me wrestle a length of barbed wire into a roll. Dogs are secret sadists, and they will leap barking around me as the wire slowly eats me alive.
It's that last line, the stunning idea of dogs being secret sadists coupled with the image of being slowly eaten alive that does me in every time. The book is full of moments like that. You can't shake them.
Then, perhaps as all good books strive to do, learning occurs. I walked away from this book with more in my head than I came in with, and I hope, should you pick up Trauma Farm and read it yourself, you have a similar experience.