Wednesday, July 31, 2013


Bootstrapper, Mardi Jo Link’s new memoir, threw me a bit of a curve.  The book’s subtitle reads this way: From Broke to Badass on a Northern Michigan Farm, leading me to believe that its focus was on the difficulty of eking out a living from one of today’s small American farms – a topic that intrigues me, especially as seen from the female point-of-view.  Instead, Bootstrapper is more the story of one woman’s struggle to survive the breakup of her marriage to a Weak Ass from Northern Michigan – a much more common and less intriguing topic.

Link’s husband, when the couple first split up, moved only a few hundred feet away from the mortgaged acreage and family home in which Mardi Jo continued to live with their three sons.  This made it easy for Mardi Jo and her soon-to-be ex-husband to hand the boys off so that they could spend time with each parent.  But Mr. Ex, for the most part, was surprisingly invisible even as just across the road from his new place, it should have been obvious to him that Mardi Jo and her boys were struggling to put food on the table. 

Mardi Jo, though, saw life on the family farm as “living the dream” and refused to give it up even when she and the boys were largely living on peanut butter and the free bakery goods they won in a zucchini-growing contest.  She had one huge problem: she really knew very little about growing her own food, raising the meat that would sustain her family over the long Michigan winter, or keeping the chickens that would supply the family with fresh eggs.  Eventually, she learned these things, but she learned them the hard way.

Mardi Jo Link
The best thing about Bootstrapper is meeting Mardi Jo’s three sons, each of whom seems to have a unique personality and a different set of life-skills that combines perfectly to help their mother keep things together just long enough for the family to survive their near-disastrous first year of single-parenthood.  Mardi Jo, determined to save her farm despite the numerous sacrifices this will require from her and her children, is lucky to have these boys.

Bottom Line: Bootstrapper is an interesting memoir about a woman who, despite the tremendous odds stacked against her, refuses to give up her dream of living on the family farm.  Regardless of its subtitle, however, this is a book about a writer who happens to live on a farm, not a book about making a go of a twenty-first century small-time farm.

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