Monday, August 7, 2017

Rural Virginia as sanctuary from the city, and from fame

This is a major theme in a piece that ran this weekend in the New York Times about Jeanette Walls, former NYC gossip columnist at New York Magazine made rich and (more) famous about a decade ago from the sale of her memoir. The Glass Castle, which spent seven years on the NYT Bestseller List.  Now that a film based on the book will be released this week (starring Brie Larson as Walls and Woody Harrelson as her father), Walls is getting renewed attention, including this piece by Ruth La Ferla.  Here's a nice summary of the book and movie, which also serve to foreshadow Walls' rural retreat from NYC to Orange, Virginia, population 4,721.  
Hasty retreats are a theme in the film, as they are in Ms. Walls’s 2005 bookof the same title. It is an alternately wrenching and exhilarating yarn of a childhood spent shuttling with her willfully shiftless parents from one parched Southwestern locale to another, and finally, when the family’s resources dry out, settling in Welch, the dilapidated West Virginia mining town that was her father’s childhood home.
La Ferla also writes of Walls' parallel adult decision to retreat from the city after her book became a bestseller:
She had few qualms about abandoning the cocktail-fueled chatter and red-carpet extravaganzas for the verdant seclusion of a 205-acre horse farm in Virginia.
And then she quotes Walls at some length, too, about what the move to rural Virginia means to her:
I know I’ll be O.K. here.  In New York, I’m not so sure. A lot of those gossip columnists, they lose their platform. Walter Winchell spent the last part of his life hanging out on street corners and handing out mimeographed columns. That was just an eye-opener for me. 
I wanted a place where I could go broke and still grow vegetables, bail water out of the creek and shoot deer.  If worse comes to worst, I’ll survive.
As for the city she left behind, Walls explains:
The city is like an old boyfriend with whom I amicably split.  
I read The Glass Castle back when it was released and seemed to have a love-hate relationship with it.  It was powerful indeed, though also uncomfortable  at many turns.  For me, it was a real tear-jerker, some of the characters a bit to close to the bone, too close to some folks from my own childhood.

This feature about Walls reminds me of this piece about Robert Duvall's Virginia retreat, from the Wall Street Journal a few months ago.  The Duvall story focused more on seclusion than survival, but also evoked the rural idyll.  Duvall calls Byrnley Farms, his property, "choice land."
The air is clean, which he appreciates. Mostly what he likes about it, though, is that it’s not the city. “The great Texas playwright Horton Foote once said a lot of people in New York don’t know what goes on beyond the south Jersey Shore, which is true,” Mr. Duvall says. “I mean, New York is a wonderful place. But it’s not the beginning and end of America. Nor is L.A.” 
The Duvall farm, is in The Plains, Virginia (population 217), in Fauquier County (population 65,203), but part of the Washington, DC Metropolitan Area.  It is one of the fastest growing and highest income counties in the United States.  Orange, Walls' home, is in the more central part of the state, not far from Charlottesville.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Last year, two guys parked in front of his farm and flew a drone over his property.

His neighbor, a retired steeplechase jockey in her sixties, saw the drone flying over Duvall's backyard and shot it down with her rifle.

Duvall was grateful for his neighbor looking out for him.

The men took off after that, don't know if they were ever caught.