Published: March 6, 2014
Julene Bair has inherited part of a farming empire and fallen in love with a rancher from Kansas’s beautiful Smoky Valley. She means to create a family, provide her son with the father he longs for, and preserve the Bair farm for the next generation, honoring her own father’s wish and commandment, "Hang on to your land!” But part of her legacy is a share of the ecological harm the Bair Farm has done: each growing season her family—like other irrigators—pumps over two hundred million gallons out of the Ogallala aquifer. The rapidly disappearing aquifer is the sole source of water on the vast western plains, and her family’s role in its depletion haunts her. As traditional ways of life collide with industrial realities, Bair must dramatically change course.
I have read, and enjoyed, a number of memoirs about farming and environmentalism. Because of that, I thought The Ogallala Road would be a book I would completely enjoy.
To be fair, there were things I liked about this book. Bair has a beautiful style that well suits the landscape about which she writes. I was completely engrossed for about the first 3rd of the book, and then things started to fall apart for me.
Up until that point, the book seemed to be a love story--a love story with the prairie and a love story with Ward, the rancher she meets on a visit home to Goodland, Kansas. Then, the book takes a shift and we go back to her earlier years in the deserts of the West and then back on the family farm. And all that would have been fine, but in this shift, it seemed to me that Bair lost her focus on the book. From that point on, I wasn't sure what exactly this book was. Was it a love story? An environmental treatise? A family saga. Honestly, any of those would have been fine, as long as I knew what it was. The book improves for a while after this, but the end is just as confusing as the flashback section.
I will say that this book frustrated me--there was nothing "bad" in the book, but it just needed to be streamlined and focused. Without any clear central theme, I was unable to truly enjoy this book.
I received an electronic copy of this book to read in return for an honest review. I received no other compensation for this post.