Helen arrives in Appalachian Ohio full of love and eager to carry out her boyfriend’s ideas for living off the land. Too soon, with winter coming, her boyfriend calls it quits. Helped by Rudy, her government-questioning, wisdom-spouting, seasonal-affective-disordered boss, and a neighbor couple, Helen makes it to spring. But Karen and Lily are expecting their first child, a boy, which means their time at the Women’s Land Trust is over. So Helen invites the new family to throw in with her—they’ll split the work and the food, build a house, and make a life that sustains them, if barely, for years. Then young Perley decides he wants to go to school. And Rudy sets up a fruit-tree nursery on the pipeline easement edging their land. Soon, the outside world is brought clamoring into their makeshift family.
Set in a region known for its independent spirit, Madeline Ffitch’s Stay and Fight shakes up what it means to be a family, to live well, to make peace with nature and make deals with the system. It is a protest novel that challenges the viability of strategic action. It is a family novel that refuses to limit the possibilities of love. And it is a debut that both breaks with tradition and celebrates it.
Author: Madeline Ffitch | Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Thank you, NetGalley and FSG, for the advanced review copy of this book! It will be published on July 9th, 2019.
I requested and read this book on the recommendation of a good friend who really knows books, and she did not let me down. I’m still mulling this one over. It was an introspective, deep novel about family, independence, identity, and love.
There are four main characters: Helen, who moved to Appalachia with her boyfriend (he left; she stayed); Lily and Karen, domestic partners who live simply, Lily a mother type and Karen a provider type; and Perley, Lily and Karen’s son. There’s also Rudy, their crude but loyal friend and Helen’s employer, but he doesn’t ever narrate as the others do.
After Helen’s boyfriend decides to leave, she continues to live on the land they paid for together in Helen’s name. After her first winter in complete isolation, learning to live off the land (literally), she invites Lily and Karen to join her on her land and build a home together. Over the years, they become a (very dysfunctional) family. Then a lonely Perley decides he wants to go to school, and it brings the outside world in — and not really in a good way.
One of the best parts of this novel was Perley’s point of view. His chapters were fascinating and beautiful. They’re written the way children seem to think, in run-on sentences that flip-flop between both childish and adult-like thoughts and emotions. He is so innocent, so heartbreaking, so wise. I could have read the entire novel through his eyes and been perfectly happy to do so.
Alas, Perley probably has the fewest chapters of all of them. But the way we meander through POV lenses, we get to really understand that the way these characters perceive themselves is rarely, or never exactly, how the other characters perceive them. Which is pretty profound in its effect.
There’s something deeply American in this book, and something that gets to the heart of agency and independence. Something that resonates really deeply, although I’m still trying to pinpoint what, exactly, that something is.
If you read it and figure it out, let me know.