A long-awaited memoir from an award-winning novelist—a candid, riveting account of her complicated, bohemian childhood and her return home to care for her ailing mother.
In March 2020, Martha McPhee, her husband, and their two almost-grown children set out for her childhood home in New Jersey, where she finds herself grappling simultaneously with a mother slipping into severe dementia and a house that’s been neglected of late. As Martha works to manage her mother’s care and the sprawling, ramshackle property—a broken septic system, invasive bamboo, dying ash trees—she is pulled back into her childhood, almost against her will.
Martha grew up at Omega Farm with her four sisters, five stepsiblings, mother, and stepfather, in a house filled with art, people, and the kind of chaos that was sometimes benevolent, sometimes more sinister. Caring for her mother and her children, struggling to mend the forest, the past relentlessly asserts itself—even as Martha’s mother, the person she might share her memories with or even try to hold to account, no longer knows who Martha is.
A masterful exploration of a complicated family legacy and a powerful story of environmental and personal repair, Omega Farm is a testament to hope in the face of suffering, and a courageous tale about how returning home can offer a new way to understand the past.
Novelist McPhee (An Elegant Woman) delivers a piercing account of her unexpected return to her childhood home during the Covid-19 pandemic. When McPhee was five, she and her three sisters followed their mother, photographer Pryde Brown, from Princeton, N.J., to the eponymous estate in rural New Jersey after Pryde divorced her husband, writer John McPhee, and moved in with still-married therapist Dan Sullivan. When she was 11, McPhee awoke one night to find Sullivan sexually abusing her. She remained haunted by memories of the assault into adulthood—"he pleasure and the shame and the guilt, the desire to protect, the fear, wanting to be good"—which complicated her decision to move back to the farm in 2020 so she could care for her mother, who had been diagnosed with dementia. McPhee parallels the extensive physical repairs she made to the farm with her efforts to repair herself by confronting the ways her mother helped enable Sullivan's abuse. She balances these tough truths with tenderness, as when she credits Pryde for believing in her dreams of becoming a writer despite her academic struggles ("She saw deep into the future—where the dreams of the present could become manifest if believed"). The result is a courageous self-examination made of equal parts candor and compassion.