Women Writers, an Internet Magazine


June 2004


Meanwhile, Next Door to the Good Life

By Jean Hay Bright

ISBN: 0972092412


Reviewed by

Melissa Flicek       

Jean Hay Bright’s Meanwhile, Next Door to the Good Life tells the story of her life quite literally next door to the famous homesteading couple, Scott and Helen Nearing. The Nearings wrote Living the Good Life, amongst other books detailing an idealistic back-to-nature type living. This how-to book started a homesteading movement of individuals seeking a simpler life during the 1970s.

Towards the end of her book, Hay Bright admits: “I do have sympathy for people who believe everything they read in a book, and then go out and try to live their lives by it” (352). If you read this book, it is obvious why. Influenced by the Nearings' book and lifestyle, Jean and her then-husband Keith abandoned city life for the simple life in Harborside, Maine. Hay Bright’s book details her experience of homesteading (and knowing Scott and Helen Nearing) in the Maine backwoods during the 1970s and its influence on her life for the next two decades.

Rebelling against the traditional autobiographical narrative, Hay Bright pieces together excerpts from letters, books, newspapers, interviews, and journal entries to create her account of living the good life. This technique generates a multi-voiced history of experience that rivals the traditional monolithic narrative. It provides a way to present a more realistic version of the history by giving the reader several different perspectives. Hay Bright also has a knack for writing engaging stories about ordinary things. She writes of the ordinary occurrences of life; births, deaths, marriages, divorce, career and life changes in a way that makes them new and unique.

Hay Bright presents the “good life” (in the Nearing sense of the word) as something one cannot find in a book or even through mimicking a couple who has proclaimed that they have found it. She even questions whether the Scott and Helen Nearing were living the life that they wrote about. I would suggest that the way Jean lived her life was a version of the “good life.” Throughout her life, Hay Bright is a daughter, wife, mother, homesteader, journalist, storeowner, organic farmer, politician and I’m sure the list goes on and on. Hay Bright is a woman who constantly recreates herself and succeeds, which I believe is a courageous way to live.

Meanwhile, Next Door to the Good Life balances historical fact and personal experience to create a book that reads like a conversation amongst friends. Hay Bright engages with a journalistic search for truth by refusing to sweeten events in the novel, but rather writes with a raw honesty about both herself and others. So, if you are looking for a book that will broaden your knowledge of 1970s homesteading movement in Maine while at the same time invite you into the lives of real, interesting people, this is it.

Other Book Reviews for "Meanwhile, Next Door to the Good Life"!


Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener, March-May 2004

Maine Sunday Telegram (Portland Press Herald), January 18, 2004

Rutland Herald and Times-Argus in Vermont, December 13, 2003

Penobscot Bay Press, Dec. 4, 2003

Amazon.com Review, Nov. 25, 2003

Ellsworth American, Nov. 20, 2003

Bangor Daily News, Nov. 17, 2003

Author Susan Hand Shetterly, Oct. 23, 2003


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