Book Review: Flat Broke with Two Goats: A Memoir of Appalachia

If you are a reader, do you have friends who are readers, and when one of them recommends a book, you dive in, knowing that you will enjoy it, and that it may even speak to you?

Flat Broke with Two Goats is one of those books for me.

My new friend, Joie, is an avid reader, and we both love a good memoir. I picked her up a week or so ago for some shopping. (We also share a fondness for skincare and cosmetics.) She asked if we could stop by the library. Of course, I had a book to return and a book to pick up, so off we went. On the way, she told me about a memoir she’d just read that made her think of me called “Flat Broke with Two Goats.” She had me at goats. Upon entering the library, we went straight to the bookshelf and picked it up.

I knew I’d relate to the book because, broadly, it is Jennifer MaGaha’s story of being uprooted from a comfortable suburban lifestyle and plunked into a cabin in the woods, where she and her husband failed at gardening, succeeded with chickens, and acquired goats. I will put your mind to rest and tell you that unlike Jennifer, John and I did not move because we faced foreclosure, we are not flat broke, and my first husband was not abusive. (Whew!)

Jennifer received the shock of her life when her accountant husband admits that he has not paid their state and federal income taxes. For several years.  Faced with an astronomical tax bill, they have no choice but to foreclose on their entire lifestyle, including their home, owner -financed by friends. Make that former friends.

With their paychecks garnished, they have no housing budget.  When a distant relative offers to let them rent a dilapidated cabin on 50+acres of land for only $250 a month, they accept.  As they move from their home in Brevard, NC to the nearly countryside, they enter a new world.  Moving in involves ripping camo carpet off the ceiling, fighting mice for living space, and learning that “hot water on demand” means firing up the wood boiler to heat water.

It also means living with one’s own personal waterfall, hiking without ever leaving home, gardening on the roof, raising chickens for fresh eggs and fun. They buy two goats, which leads to more goats, baby goats, and goat milk, from which they learn to make cheeses and soap.

In this middle of all of this, Jennifer’s grandfather, grandmother, and great uncle, all of whom she had been close to, die in a short period of time. Ultimately, Jennifer realizes that this “back to roots” lifestyle creates the link she needs to feel close to her ancestors, who had eeked out a life farming in Appalachia.

Her writing style is lush and lyrical. If you have ever lived in East Tennessee or Western North Carolina, you will know something of the landscape and culture about which she writes. If you have ever lived in the woods or in the country, you will relate to her experiences with nature and animals, wild and domestic.

But this book is about so much more than foreclosure, Appalachia, and animals. It is one woman’s story of approaching mid-life and taking an abrupt detour, one not of her own choosing. This is a theme to which so many women between forty-five and sixty can relate. While perhaps one does not encounter the same difficulties that Jennifer experiences, I think that all of us in this age range experience unsettling, unexpected life events, including, but not limited to, becoming an empty nester, losing a spouse to divorce or death, changing homes, financial adjustments, changing or leaving a career, losing parents and grandparents, serious illness.

Jennifer is honest in her self examination, her questions about her life, the difficulties involved in a radical change of life, and what it’s like when your husband wildly embraces this new life as you watch from the sidelines, adjusting more slowly.

I highly recommend Flat Broke with Two Goats to any woman who is willing to read this book and to be open to Jennifer touching your own struggles and adjustments, even if they don’t involve a black snake landing in your lap, falling asleep to the roar of a waterfall, and writing a captivating book.

You can read my three paragraph review on Goodreads here. Click here to read my Amazon review, where you can read my reply to other readers who criticize the McGahas for buying animals when they have $4.57 in their bank account.

If you read this book, come back and tell me what you think, will you?

4 Replies to “Book Review: Flat Broke with Two Goats: A Memoir of Appalachia”

  1. I’m definitely going to read this book.

  2. ordered from my public library!! Looking forward to reading it! I’m a little closer to her situation than you are!! 😀

  3. Donna Beichler says: Reply

    ordered from my public library!! Looking forward to reading it! I’m a little closer to her situation than you are!! 😀

  4. Mary Anne Hipple says: Reply

    I’m always looking for the next book to read, so I’ll definitely check this one out. It sounds interesting and thought provoking.

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