First, the good: Ellen Stimson is funny. Darned funny. And she knows how to spin a good, old-fashioned yarn. She's telling her story of moving from the urban Midwest to rural Vermont to live out her dream of buying an old house and running the quintessential country store -- and it's amusing. She talks about the time she undressed in the wrong motel room, the time she called 911 because the two-lane highway was blocked by cattle, and the time she dumped a 2-gallon jug of red food coloring into a large pond to simulate a battle scene from "Treasure Island" and was yelled at by cops for starting an environmental disaster.
Stimson tells her tales with clear-eyed, self-deprecating humor, which makes "Mud Season" a breeze to read in a single sitting.
"Mud Season: How One Woman's Dream of Moving to Vermont, Raising Children, Chickens, and Sheep & Running the Old Country Store Pretty Much Led to One Calamity after Another"By Ellen Stimson
The Countryman Press, 256 pages, $23.95, ellenstimson.com/
Despite the amusing anecdotes, Stimson's first foray into writing books -- in a previous life, she sold books -- is more than a bit flawed. To call it a memoir is a stretch. Her collection of 11 "chapters" reads more like a haphazard collection of essays that would have better served her experience. Stimson should have hired a good editor. That person could have insisted on solid transitions between chapters and removing much of the repetition.
But things really fall apart near the end. Stimson has complained for more than 200 pages about how much money she's spending and how the renovations to the house, the lack of sales at the store and everything else are bleeding her dry. She even flippantly considers bankruptcy after a good friend explains that she has a failed business and that's why bankruptcy exists -- it's "part of the system," he says. In the eleventh hour, Stimson is bailed out by a buyer and she and her family of five take off on vacation. What? They rent a cabin and a pontoon boat. They swim in Canadian waters, then stuff themselves on hot dogs and s'mores.
To top it off, she concludes the book with a collection of recipes -- seemingly from out of nowhere -- as well as obituaries for her lost pets. These tacked-on sections are sweet but have no place in this so-called memoir.