Combining autobiographical accounting with near-poetic turns of phrase, Laura Shaine Cunningham tells the story of how she came to love and own a home in the country. The country, for Cunningham, is first in Tuxedo Park, New York, about 40 miles from the city, and then at another home, the Inn, on an estate called Willowby. Her own vantage point as a city girl imbues A Place in the Country with the longing and expectations urban dwellers have for the beauty and peace of more rural settings.
Cunningham ranges all over her own biography, from adopting a daughter in China to her own experiences at summer camp. Her varying descriptions of places dear to her could have been disjointed, but instead all cohere through an understanding of the importance of place in general, and of the sanctity of a home. She creates fictional names for the privacy-loving neighbors at Willowby, and describes the disappointment of seeing how rundown her summer camp was with a keen memory of a child's desire for something beautiful.
In A Place in the Country, Cunningham writes about people as well as places. Stories of the individuals connected with the Inn (some of which have appeared in The New Yorker) happily populate the anecdotes Cunningham relates. These include the English Lord and Lady who live in the manor on the Inn's property. Cunning-ham describes her first meeting with the Lord and Lady as "a cross between Hay Fever and The Bald Soprano." Tales of Cecil, the handyman, are at once funny and acute; as Cunning-ham writes, "The single drawback to Cecil was that he was deaf. So when I screamed, 'How do you turn on the hot water heater?' he answered, 'The flowers need water, no rain for a week.' "
Finally, Cunningham teaches us about the ability of a loved place to encompass both good and bad parts of our lives. Her place in the country eventually houses many memories, anecdotes, and even a few lessons. The surroundings meld with the experiences. As she writes of the berry patch where her husband once declared his everlasting love: "My marriage soured and went bitter but I do still taste the sweet with the bitter when I remember the raspberries."
Eliza R.L. McGraw writes from Nashville.