Sunday, January 27, 2013

Tamarack River Ghost by Jerry Apps

I've written before about central Wisconsin's local author Jerry Apps.  He is so well known as a farming community historian that our public television just did a special series featuring his reflections on rural life in the 20th Century (especially the Depression era through the 60s) . Many know of his nonfiction books which capture Wisconsin's (and the country's) agricultural past.  I like his more recent fiction series set in the mythical Ames County, WI.  Ames county captures the best of several communities within our great central Wisconsin.  In his latest book Tamarack River Ghost, the county residents are faced with the possibility of a mega-farm taking over a defunct golf-course/ condo complex.  Nathan West Industries is a top leading producer of pork and really has control of the whole process from raising the feed to the final processing steps as the meat is wrapped and delivered.
If they open a facility in Ames, it will raise approximately 75,000 little oinkers per year per building.  Science and the industrial model has so perfected the process that the pigs never spend any time outside -- no worry over little pink sunburns or wallowing in the mud, but at what cost?

Naturally the community is split about the proposition.  Some clearly jump on board, seeing the benefits of increased tax base and new jobs.  Others worry about the areas's rich resources; how can water quality be guaranteed?  And is this new model really humane animal treatment?  At the center of the investigation into the proposed farm is Josh Wittmore, a local boy, now an agricultural news reporter.
Even as he tries to remain objective about the pig operation, Josh's work world is being transformed.  Like other newspapers, the Farm Country News, a national ag newspaper is losing readership and money.  Will a new model of instant news, often without sound objective reporting, totally replace what has long been the accepted journalistic model?

I always enjoy Jerry Apps's books, mainly because I see so much local color throughout.  In this book especially (if you have any ag background), you'll recognize the real world dilemmas he pulls in.  And for those who don't have that exposure to today's rural problems, he does a lot of explaining within the stories.  That may not make the fastest story telling, but it really clarifies the issues.

His writing is just so real -  from the female game warden to the neighborhood old codgers (these guys appear in more than one book) to the winter snowmobile races ruined by what else - snow!  And for those who need a little more excitement, there is the Tamarack River Ghost.  I'll say no more, except if you smell pipe tobacco, look around.  If you don't see anyone, listen for a bell.  The Tamarack River Ghost may be making his presence known again.


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