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What is happening in Vermont now that new people are moving in and the old agrarian ways are dying? THE SIMPLE LIFE is a deeply engaging rural tragedy about well-meaning ordinary people whose lives tangle with each other in a destructive way. The only true innocents are the team of oxen whose own story is one of the central threads. In 1991, Isabel Rawlings, a middle-aged suburbanite, recently divorced, moves to Severance, Vermont, to try to live a simple, rural life. She gets romantically involved with Leroy LaFourniere, a real estate developer and small-town hustler, and she makes friends with an old ox teamster, Sonny Trumbley, and his great-granddaughter, Alison LePage. After a tragic farm accident, everything unravels, and Isabel realizes that the simple life isn t as simple as she had fantasized. Starting over is the theme of this engrossing tale, according to AARP the Magazine, but Isabel finds, in words of Vermont Life Magazine, that Vermont, like other rural places, is changing and that not everyone who lives in the Green Mountains is a saint. The editor of Vermont Life found in THE SIMPLE LIFE overtones of James Agee s A DEATH IN THE FAMILY. Isabel plunges incautiously into her new world but discovers that life, unlike dreams, is never simple but rather a winding, treacherous road that can be very short or very long, but is never smooth or painless. As the book unfolds and the story quickens, wrote Roger Sale, retired English professor and long-time book reviewer for many national publications, the sentences, without changing their ways and means, gain an uncluttered, crystal clear, dignified stature as the doors of Porter s characters lives open and close decisively.
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Since graduating from St. John s College, Ruth Porter has spent her life writing and reading in rural Vermont. She has lived on a subsistence farm for thirty years where she raised four children and most of their food. She was born in New York and grew up in Ohio. Porter, Maxwell Perkins granddaughter, has completed a one-man show about Perkins and has collaborated with her aunt, Bertha Frothingham, Maxwell Perkins oldest daughter, to edit Perkins personal letters, FATHER TO DAUGHTER. She is working on her third novel about Vermont.Review:
The Montpelier Bridge May 2006 The Simple Life Trouble in Paradise By Nat Frothingham Ultimately, the test of any book is the glue that holds it together that s narrative power. What is narrative power? It s the power of a good story well told to take you on a journey to another place. It s the power of a story to seize on, capture, and hold fast a reader s attention. By any measure, Ruth Porter s first novel with the disarmingly comforting title The Simple Life is a book with good glue. Here is a novel although the portents and scratch marks on the wall are there from the beginning that seems so quiet, so rural, so peaceful, almost too quiet. Is there something sinister here? Porter s story takes us step by step, with growing unease and gathering intensity, to a place that is violent and deadly. In many ways, The Simple Life is about treachery and a loss of innocence. It s also about a clash of values. And finally, because the story comes to stand for a way of life in Vermont that is not just threatened but has almost disappeared, as you put this book down, you hear a song that is tragic, sweet, and terribly sad. Porter takes us into another world. You hear the clank of a chain in the barn. You smell the animals, the sawdust, the hay, the manure. A gate or a door clicks open or shuts. It s after supper and from outside the house, a patch of light hits the ground, and inside the dishes are being washed and people are talking. It s easy to feel there is a simple life, to feel that farming people rise with the sun, till the earth, cut firewood, observe the seasons along with Vermont s white houses, grass and hillsides, the dark green forests and families at their chores. These quiet pastoral scenes are not unlike what Isabel saw on that first night when she and Jeff got their car stuck in the mud and when she stood on the farmhouse porch. Porter tells us this is what Isabel saw. The early light was as clear and pure as water. Beyond the black barnyard mu --The Montpelier Bridge
Seven Days June 28-July 5, 2006 In Country By Margot Harrison Thanks to the antics of Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie playing spoiled rich girls shoveling manure in the boonies, the phase the simple life is hard to utter with a straight face. Calais writer Ruth Porter s novel THE SIMPLE LIFE intends the title ironically. But it s still an antidote to the televised heiresses and all they represent. In the novel s opening chapter, Jeff and Isabel Rawlings, a Massachusetts couple up for their 25th Green Mountain College reunion, get stuck in spring mud on a remote country road. They re rescued by a nearby farmer, aged but able Sonny Trumbley, who frees the car handily with his ox team and refuses payment for the favor. Jeff is eager to return to civilization, but Isabel is charmed by Sonny, his oxen and his run-down farm. She sees in them a life of simple, basic things, the life she had always yearned to live herself... Fast-forward a year: The couple s marriage has dissolved, and empty nester Isabel returns to Vermont with a car full of belongings, determined to figure out how to live the simple life. This, or something like it, is the plot set-up of innumerable post-1960 s Vermont novels. But anyone who expects THE SIMPLE LIFE to be the story of a middle-aged woman s conversion to bucolic simplicity will be surprised by its scope and tragic depth. The simple life turns out to be more complicated than it looks, and we see just how complicated when Porter s third-person narrator enters the minds of the people whose lives Isabel covets. Sonny Trumbley wants to hang on to his ancestral farm, on its scenic piece of land. But he knows that when he dies, his live-in granddaughter Carol Ann will take the first chance to unload the unprofitable property. Soft-spoken and resigned, Sonny rests his hopes for the future on Carol Ann s teenage daughter, Al, who accompanies him when he cuts wood and loves to drive his prize oxen, Buck and Ben. Both woodspeople --Seven Days
The Vermont Sunday Magazine The Sunday Rutland Herald and the Sunday Times Argus July 16, 2006 Simple but not-so-easy Vermont lives By Stephen Morris "The Simple Life" by Ruth Porter is a book that nails the rural Vermont experience "dead nuts on" as character Sonny Trumbell might express it. This is a Vermont that Vermont Life sweeps under the rug, because it ain't pretty. This is the Vermont of doublewides, shadowy characters and human vulnerability that you can find on dirt roads everywhere, but never on the cover of a magazine. Ruth Porter has the credentials for writing about the hardscrabble experience. Although raised in a small town in Ohio, she and her husband Bill operate a small farm in Adamant (doesn't that sound like a name from a novel?) where they raised their four children, now grown and on their own. "We grew all our own food," she says. "We had cows, horse, chickens ..." and, she adds, a team of oxen. The oxen are central to the story of "The Simple Life." Characters Isabel and Jeff are taking what they think is a shortcut to a 25th reunion at Green Mountain College when they encounter the scourge of Vermont spring: mud. Soon their car is mired in ooze, as is their relationship. Along comes Sonny Trumbell, owner of a hillside farm, to liberate them. Rescue comes in the form of Buck and Ben, Sonny's team of ox, who slowly and methodically extricate the couple's blue Honda from the muck. "He picked up his whip and walked to the front of his team. Holding whip high he said, "Come up," softly. He walked backwards away from the oxen, and they walked slowly, steadily toward him while the car slid silently behind. There was no straining, no drama, no loud noise, only soft, sucking sound of the mud and then the gritting of the oxen's feet on the dry part of the road. When the car was out of the mud hole, the old man lowered his whip so that it hung in the air in front of the huge noses. 'Whoa,' he said in a deep, but quiet voice.'" The experience --The Vermont Sunday Magazine
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