A Booksmart Review: This Life Is in Your Hands: One Dream, Sixty Acres, and a Family Undone by Melissa Coleman

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This Life Is in Your Hands: One Dream, Sixty Acres, and a Family Undone
Melissa Coleman (Harper Collins 2011)

Melissa Coleman’s new book, This Life Is in Your Hands: One Dream, Sixty Acres, and a Family Undone, explores growing up on a rural Maine homestead in a dysfunctional family. It is also the story of how Melissa’s father, Elliot Coleman—visionary, outsized personality, and organic gardening pioneer—got his start.

The story begins in the late 1960s when Melissa’s parents, both from privileged, suburban backgrounds, join the nascent “back to the land” movement and set out to carve a farm out of 60 acres of coastal Maine. With little money and superhuman effort, they build a house and start a successful small farm. At first, living with no plumbing, telephone, electricity, or access to powered farm equipment provides true happiness for the young couple.

When Melissa is born and then her sister, life becomes more complicated. While Elliot is a dynamo of work and drive, Melissa’s mother, Sue, struggles with depression. As the years go by, Elliot’s success and celebrity slowly erase the family’s idyll, and the farm becomes a magnet for a tribe of young want-to-be farmers. Elliot becomes enslaved by his obsession with self-sufficiency and by financial pressures enveloping him.

The realization of Elliot’s dream, in the end, becomes a nightmare. It ruins his health, aggravates his wife’s depression, and renders her incapable of caring for her children. It is this dynamic, which precipitates the tragedy that tears the family apart.

In the final pages, we learn the central truth of this book: it is important not to forget bad times in our lives but to find a measure of peace by forgiving the unforgivable. Melissa Coleman lives in Freeport, Maine, with her husband and twin daughters.

Reviewed by Kerry Michaels

   

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