Did you ever have the experience of reading a book, then reading a bunch of reviews about it and thinking, “Did all the reviewers just read the same book I did?” That’s kind of the way I was with The Woefield Poultry Collective. I did enjoy it, and in fact read through it quite quickly and with great interest, but my reading was somewhat spoiled by what I thought was a glaring flaw in the novel that none of the many positive reviews I read seemed to pick up on.
The novel tells the story of Prudence, an idealistic young writer from New York City who’s excited about sustainable living and organic farming. She inherits a rundown Canadian farm from a relative she barely knows, and moves onto her new land full of ideas and enthusiasm. An assortment of quirky characters shows up to round out the cast as Prudence tries to go back to the land.
It sounds like what it is — a fun, light read. For me, all the fun came from the supporting characters, each of whom gets a turn at telling the story from their point of view. Earl, the cynical old handyman; Sara, the over-earnest eleven-year-old who raises prize chickens; and most of all, for me, Seth, the alcoholic twenty-year-old celebrity blogger who lives across the road until his mother kicks him out and he comes to Prudence looking for room and board in exchange for work — are all great characters. Distinctive, believable, funny but also touching. They carried the story for me.
And then there’s Prudence.
According to the reviews I read, I think we’re supposed to root for Prudence as the main character, and her boundless energy and optimism are meant to carry the story. I flat-out hated Prudence, and what was worse, I didn’t believe in her. She seemed to be living in a different novel from all the rest of the characters. Yes, I realize the whole concpet here is that city-girl Prudence is idealistic and naive about what running a farm actually involve, but Prudence’s naievety borders on stupidity (actually, several times it runs right across the border); she makes mistakes which are so airheaded I don’t see how anyone could possibly take her seriously, and she never, ever has to suffer the consequences of her actions. She’s a bubbleheaded caricature from a chicklit novel, supposedly forming the strong centre of a novel which is otherwise populated with interesting and believable characters.
So, I’m not going to tell you not to read this book, because I quite liked three-quarters of it (all the parts where Prudence wasn’t narrating) and it has gotten lots of great reviews. Maybe it’s just me; Prudence rubs me the wrong way. But I’d love to hear from others who have read it to see if anyone else had any issues with her character. It could be one of those things that’s specific to me, as a reader, and I certainly don’t want to tear down what is otherwise an enjoyable book, but — yeah, I really had some issues with Prudence.