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The $64 Tomato

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If the idea of a memoir by someone "who nearly lost his sanity" over a garden freezes the blood, as it did mine, then be prepared to have your preconceptions squashed by this disarmingly witty take on horticulture among the energetic middle-aged.

Written by a curmudgeonly amateur who endearingly aspires to gentleman-farmer status, "The $64 Tomato" is a domestic picaresque, with the author undertaking the emotional and physical journey of a lifetime that somehow never extends beyond the electric fence of his back garden in the Hudson Valley. As he attempts to carve out a 2,000-square-foot vegetable garden from a sloping field that is frozen solid in winter and unbearably hot in summer, plagued by all manner of bugs and critters, and tended by a string of eccentric and incompetent employees, William Alexander rapidly realizes that it is a battlefield out there in which only the fittest survive -- and that includes the owner-gardener....

This a consistently funny book.... I laughed out loud twice in the first couple of pages at the portrayal of Bridget the Scandinavian garden designer, "late, breathless, and blonde" and immaculate in every way except for her filthy fingernails, which an unabashedly lustful Alexander finds overpoweringly sexy. His wife, in the meantime, is equally mesmerized by Bridget's starry white teeth...

There is a piquancy to Alexander's social observations that is reminiscent of a good sitcom. When a friend and his wife bicker about which of their homegrown and date-stamped cucumbers to present to him, they inadvertently reveal that over the years they have consistently given him the oldest cucumber, never the freshest. Alexander's self-righteous reaction could be a scene right out of "Seinfeld" or the Larry David's show....

This is a genuinely humorous book that debunks the American dream not in the familiar economic sense but in its rural incarnation. It is a paean to the homesteader who never gets written about, the pioneer whom all of us could have been in another life, the incompetent one.

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