4.5 out of 5: A Country Called Home is an exquisitely-told story of a couple who leaves behind a privileged life in Connecticut to carve out a hardscrabble existence in the Idaho wilderness. The novel begins in 1960 when Thomas Deracotte and his young, pregnant wife decide to buy a dilapidated farm on the outskirts of a small town. After a sudden tragedy, the family is left to pick up the pieces in an unfamiliar, and often inhospitable, landscape. As the Deracotte's daughter spends her time riding horses and avoiding other children her age, Thomas Deracotte often turns to fly-fishing as an escape. This book's best passages describe the Idaho countryside, particularly the river running along the edge of the Deracotte's farm and its narcotic effect on the family's patriarch:
Even after all the hours spent with a rod in his hands, each strike seemed a surprise rather than the end result of his studied experiment: the fly carefully selected to match hatch and season; the cast so nearly perfect that the feathered hook whispered down like a caddis dipping its wings; the placement at the lip of current just shy of stone; the rise and roll and set. He would bring the fish in, cradle it just below the surface, and rock it softly until it spasmed free.This novel is deeply grounded in its western setting, which Barnes evokes with beautifully poetic prose. Despite her gift with landscapes, Barnes does not shortchange the human element of this story, and A Country Called Home is populated with sympathetic characters and several lively plot lines. Although the Deracotte's endure loneliness, death, addiction, and mental illness, their story is ultimately hopeful. It's rare to find such striking prose in a page-turner, but A Country Called Home has it all. The overall effect is a powerful book that feels like a classic already.