If you want to know what the latest book by memoirist/novelist/advertising exec/former drag queen Josh Kilmer-Purcell is about, you could read the jacket description, which bills the story as one about "approaching middle age, being in a long-term relationship, realizing the city no longer feeds you in the same way it used to, and finding new depths of love and commitment wherever you live." Or you could read the first of Kilmer-Purcell's two disclaimers preceding the prologue, in which he bills the book as "a memoir of a certain time in my life." Or, you could, you know, read the title.
The Bucolic Plague: How Two Manhattanites Became Gentlemen Farmers is about how two Manhattanites became (guess!) gentlemen farmers. Pretty gay, right? (I'm not sure if it gets any gayer than having both "drag queen" and "gentlemen farmer" on your résumé.) And really, the gay thing is what makes this story new: Bourgeois cosmopolitan couple is charmed by the idea of country livin', buys a weekend fixer-upper upstate, and gets in over their heads—but also befriends the quirky local townsfolk, waxes poetic about the incomparable taste of a freshly laid egg, and learns about life by laboring in an heirloom-vegetable garden. But just as in his outrageous drag-queen memoir I Am Not Myself These Days, Kilmer-Purcell makes his clichés forgivable with his scathing one-liners and the occasional poignant insight.
In The Bucolic Plague, Kilmer-Purcell has gone from drag queen to domestic queen, preferring to weed his garden, can tomatoes, and make soap from goat milk rather than drink himself into oblivion and get dressed up in his seven-inch heels and trademark goldfish-filled plastic breasts. But he's still got a drag queen's snarky wit, especially in his (frequent) references to his former life. "The last time I saw 4 A.M.," he writes in the book's opening, "I was tottering home in high heels and a matted wig sipping from the tiny bottles of Absolut I always kept in my bag for emergencies. Emergencies like 'last call.'"
But now Kilmer-Purcell is all grown up, with a cushy job as an ad exec and a healthy adult relationship with his partner, Brent, who is both a doctor and a "health and wellness consultant" for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia (yep, still gay). For Kilmer-Purcell and Brent, an idyllic vision of rustic pastoral life is embodied by the Beekman Mansion, a dilapidated 200-year-old house they fall in love with during a weekend apple-picking excursion. One lowball offer later, the "Beekman Boys" find themselves with a farm, a herd of goats, and a strained relationship. Laid-back Kilmer-Purcell is philosophical and witty about his gardening and baking failures; compulsive Brent relentlessly strives for Martha-level domestic perfection. Inevitably, Kilmer-Purcell suffers from a severe Martha-induced inferiority complex, and at the prospect of Brent's boss visiting them at the Beekman, he frets that driving Martha from the Albany Amtrak station to the farm in the backseat of their pickup would be like "a scene from a Samuel Beckett adaptation of Driving Miss Daisy."
Despite the Martha anxiety and the inevitable stress that comes from trying to maintain a farm and a lifestyle blog about maintaining a farm, Kilmer-Purcell and Brent do have their moments of standard rustic bliss—the quirky local friends, the fresh eggs, the garden. But then there are the not-so-standard moments, and these make the book: For an authentic country Thanksgiving, Kilmer-Purcell and Brent get a turkey drunk in order to make slaughtering it easier. Male models unknowingly frolic in manure during a "Depression-era chic" photo shoot on the farm. The book opens with a scene involving baby goats, baby-goat diarrhea, and a nearly disastrous television debut on The Martha Stewart Show.
Speaking of television, in what I'm sure is a remarkable coincidence, the release of The Bucolic Plague is timed precisely with the premiere of The Fabulous Beekman Boys, a "docu-series" that is essentially the book in reality-show form. Funny like a drag queen, insightful like a writer, Kilmer-Purcell is still an advertising executive—but he's also a businessman with a farm to save. So maybe The Bucolic Plague is a little bit gimmicky. But it's always entertaining and often moving, so I'm still rooting for these gentlemen farmers. And their goats.