The Education of a Yankee

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Judson Hale grew up in the 1930’s in a wealthy Boston family and now edits both YANKEE magazine and THE FARMER’S ALMANAC. His autobiography, however, is no conventional tale of success. The reader of this idiosyncratic work soon discovers something odd is afoot.

For one thing, Judson’s parents reared him and their other children according to the system of a certain Dr. Smith, the main points of which seem to have been the desirability of frequent enemas and regular doses of beef juice. Whether or not because of subjection to this regimen, the author’s elder brother, Drake, developed severe mental problems from the age of three. To cure him, his parents rejected conventional medicine, instead journeying to Switzerland, where they became enamored of anthroposophy--an occult discipline founded by the philosopher and Goethe scholar Rudolf Steiner. The unfortunate Drake was deposited in the care of Steinerite nurses in Switzerland; and, on their return to the United States, the parents purchased a large farm in Maine which they devoted to the anthroposophical movement. Here Judson spent most of his early years.

When Judson took up a position with YANKEE magazine, edited by his Uncle Robb, he at last can depict a pleasant person he genuinely admires--much of the previous narrative has concerned unpleasant details about other relatives. Yet the old ways have not been forgotten, and one soon finds himself in the midst of a discussion of Uncle Robb’s death throes from cancer, told in clinical detail.

Judson Hale has had more than his share of ill-luck, yet nothing seems to faze him. One must admire his cheerfulness in the face of disaster, while perhaps wondering whether he has constructed a carapace insulating him from too much stress. How else may one account for his hardly varying whimsy toward all and sundry?

Not every reader will find this book to his or her liking. Those with a taste for the bizarre, however, will find the book intriguing, if frequently unenjoyable.