Of The Farm details the complex relationship between a son in his mid-thirties and his elderly mother. The son brings his new wife and her son from a previous marriage to his mother’s remote farm, and it’s obvious from the beginning that the mother and the wife are not going to get along.
Though a brief novel, Updike delivers an intricate and dramatic story peeling away the complicated layers that make up relationships. Throughout the book, the man is constantly on alert, hoping to defuse any arguments between the women in his life, but he refuses to stand up to his mother nor does he seem totally invested in being committed to his wife.
In fact, the man is an incredibly interesting character because he is so flawed, so monumentally incapable of mediating the warring women in a healthy manner, that he almost leaps off the page. Surely he’ll remind you of someone you know … perhaps even yourself. The women were also expertly written, something that doesn’t always happen with a male author. I found the mother and wife realistic, respectable, and equally as flawed as the main character.
Though lacking any real physical action, Updike’s study of mothers and sons and husbands and wives is wickedly enticing and, as always, written very well.
This is a wonderfully brief yet exact description of Updike’s excellent novella and the warring between true characters, all of whom hold one’s interest–including the stepson, Richard, who must mediate at times when Joey does not.