Oct 28, 2009

The Egg and I

by Betty MacDonald

I only had a vague impression of this book going into it: city girl becomes the reluctant wife of a chicken rancher in the mountains and relates the struggles of her first year, in the 1920's. What I didn't know until I opened The Egg and I was its setting: the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. And that's why I fell in love with this book. My heart has roots that thread back to that locale. I grew up in Seattle, and my father's family lives around Grays Harbor, which is on the southern costal part of the Olympic Peninsula. So when Macdonald described the heavily forested mountains, the houses weathered grey with cedar shingle roofs, the damp and endless winter rain, the logging clearcuts full of wild blackberries, the choking underbrush of salaal, huckleberries and oregon grape, the smoked salmon and fresh-dug clams and little oysters- it was all dearly familiar to me. I could see it because I've been there.

Besides the familiarity of place, I loved this book because its writing is so frank and funny. The hardships MacDonald suffered were many- endless chores made difficult by lack of running water and a cranky old wood stove that failed to heat the house well; slovenly neighbors always begging for help and causing more problems; bears and cougars wandering near the house; hundreds of baby chicks demanding attention every few hours; etc etc- yet she never lost her sense of humor, although it gets kind of bitter at times. Her descriptions of the Native Americans who lived on the Peninsula are disparaging, but I was able to glide past that prejudice and enjoy the rest of the book. Her husband could come across as uncaring and demanding, yet at the same time he would haul water for her and assist in other ways while men around them just looked on and sneered at him for doing "women's work". Her neighbors are colorful: down one side of the mountain live the Kettles, lazy and shiftless with a yard cluttered with dead cars; on the other side the Hicks, neat as a pin and cooly cricital- both full of endless gossip. Anyhow, I won't go on and on. If you like memoirs about what life was like in the days of few conveniences, this one is a darn good read. I know I'm going to go looking now for some more of MacDonald's autobiographical writing. She also wrote the Miss Piggle-Wiggle books, which I read over and over from my gradeschool library as a kid.

My own copy of The Egg and I has a worn, dreary cover so I gave it a new face from my scrap file. Here's the result. (You can see some more covers I've redone on these two old posts.)

Rating: 4/5 ....... 287 pages, 1945

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  1. Wasn't there a movie made from this book? I love the cover you made - you could be a cover designer!

  2. Thanks! There was a movie made, and a series of Ma and Pa Kettle movies, but I only know this from wiki, having never seen them. I've also heard the tv show Beverly Hillbillies was loosely based on this book, but I don't know if that's true or not.

  3. The movie was great! So cute! I highly recommend it.

  4. The cover at the top, with the picture in the circle, looks so friendly! I need to definitely try this!

  5. This sounds so... cute. Not in a bad way, I just mean that it sounds so friendly in an old-fashioned way.

    One year in school we had to raise chicks, feeding for them and caring for them. I remember how much I enjoyed it - I'd like to read what it's like to raise hundreds of them at once.

  6. Amy- I'll have to watch it someday. I bet it's lots of fun.

    Jenny- Friendly is a good description. Sometimes it feels like she's just sitting in your kitchen telling you all these funny stories about ranching in the mountains.

    Anonymous Child- Actually, most of the book is about other aspects of farming, not the chickens. I was expecting it to be all about chickens, but it's not. Still enough in there to give you a glimpse of large-scale chicken farming.


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