“When you have gone through a sort of travesty of your own making, failure begins to feel like part of you. You get used to it.”
Jennifer McGaha grew up in an upper middle class North Carolina family; after a volatile first marriage in college she reconnected with her high school boyfriend, David, and they got married. Despite being an accountant David managed to ruin the family’s finances during the Great Recession of 2008. Jennifer, an adjunct English teacher, was blissfully aware of her husband’s mismanagement of their finances until he woke her up one evening and confessed they owed 4 years of back taxes to the IRS. Despite their situation seeming to be mostly David’s fault I felt more sympathy for him than for Jennifer. While ignorance may be bliss I find it hard to believe someone could be that naive about their family’s finances! One of her first thoughts was divorce since she saw their mutual financial ruin as solely his responsibility.
Look, financial stability can be difficult to achieve and maintain. I am not faulting anyone who hits hard times following the loss of a job or unforeseen medical or home expenses but this is not the case for Jennifer and David which is why I had a hard time finding sympathy for their situation. After the McGaha’s house was foreclosed on they continued to send their youngest son to private school! There are also numerous references to their finding comfort in craft beers and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream which, admittedly, aren’t extravagant expenses but when you only have $4.57 in your checking account I’d reevaluate your priorities. Eventually the couple moves to a dilapidated cabin in the Appalachian mountains which had a manageable rent although it needed a lot of repairs and cosmetic work. Naturally, they spent any money they did have on fixing up their new place. Jennifer has a pathological need to keep up with the Jonses even when the nearest neighbor is miles away.
Once they get settled in the cabin, after a brief separation, they decide to get chickens for the fresh eggs. This goes decently so they decide to get goats with only a little bit of knowledge on raising them. Again they sink so much money into their livestock adventures that it was hard to be sympathetic when things went wrong and got expensive. The farm life narrative felt like a different book; there was minimal discussion of their finances and it felt more like a book about homesteading than a memoir. I learned a lot about birthing goats.
From a writing standpoint McGaha is a competent writer but if this was a novel I would complain about how unrealistic her protagonists’ life choices were. Unfortunately this is a memoir and I struggle criticizing the real life decisions people made, no matter how different from my own they are. Okay, maybe I didn’t struggle that much with this one but these people made some really terrible, totally avoidable calls.