As a seasonal farmer in upstate New York and Vermont-living hand-to-mouth, but in love with the land and its creatures-Ellyn Gaydos understands the delicate balance between loss and gain. Choosing such work instead of moving to the city with her long-distance boyfriend, Gaydos recognizes her role in cycles bigger than herself. Yearning to be a mother, she recognizes, too, how new life is mirrored in everything that surrounds her: livestock, full moons, endless acres of green that seem to blossom overnight. But there's tragedy on the farms as well: fields gone barren, opioid addiction, and animals meeting their end too soon. While small farms struggle to survive in the face of industrial operations, low wages, and loneliness, Gaydos takes us into a violent and gorgeous world where pigs are turned into star-bright symbols of hope, and beauty surfaces in the furrows, the sow, and the slaughter.
The premise of Ellyn Gaydos’s debut memoir Pig Years may seem unpromising, at least to urbanites. And yet even if you’ve never given farming a thought, Gaydos is a writer of such vigorous eloquence that you’ll find yourself riveted ... The memoir imparts an abiding sense of the gravity of these acts—of raising, tending, and killing animals; of planting, nurturing, and harvesting vegetables—that lends an almost sacred quality to Gaydos’s prose ... Unplotted, the memoir is, like life, peppered with significant, unforeseeable incidents ... Such loveliness: prose style is a kind of magic.
Memoirs about farming tend to slide in one of two directions: the farce or the ode. Neither of those genres is as satisfying as what we have in Ellyn Gaydos’s debut memoir, Pig Years, about her life as a farmhand in New York and Vermont. What this young writer has given us is more of a memento mori, rendering realistic scenes full of vivid and sometimes bizarre detail, always with an acknowledgment — on the surface or just under it — of the inescapable facts that life entails death, and growth, and arises from decay ... Her extended exploration of what it is to nurture life (wild and domesticated, plant and animal) and also end it is one of the most compelling parts of the book ... Occasionally, the writing is overripe and Gaydos’s thoughts seem undigested. We can feel, just behind these pages, the notebooks she filled on hot summer nights after pigs were fed and weeds were pulled. But the overall effect is of access and intimacy; Gaydos lets us into her world, and we follow her to the worthy and unforgiving place where nature and agriculture meet.
Stunning ... While each year follows the seasons, the book, as a whole, turns slowly from spring to winter. Both the structure and the writing are careful, controlled and exquisite ... Her tone is serious, her prose laced with gorgeous description ... Her writing is evocative but never sentimental ... The possibility of death hums through these chapters ... Pig Years is an unsparing look at a tough way of living. Gaydos is careful to bleed any romance out of the hard, hard work of farming, yet stripped to its essence, its meaning and its importance, she reveals it to be a beautiful thing.