Jennifer McGaha and her husband, David, were living the American dream in North Carolina: big house, private school for their kids—and debt. Mountains of debt. David, an accountant, shielded Jennifer from just how dire the situation was. But when the government came knocking for a staggering amount of back taxes, Jennifer and David had no choice but to foreclose on their dream home and move to a family-owned cabin in an Appalachian holler.
“Cabin” might actually be a charitable description for the barely inhabitable place in which they find themselves. Abandoned for years, the leaky structure is overrun with mice, snakes and other critters. Deep in the mountains, the surrounding area is starkly beautiful but dark and damp from a nearby waterfall.
The shell-shocked couple sets about making the house into a home and learning how to live off the land. Still reeling, Jennifer flees when a temporary teaching job materializes at a college in Illinois, where she faces her crushing (if unfair) disappointment at David’s inability to rescue their finances. “On the one hand, you know you and your husband are having trouble paying the bills,” she writes. “On the other hand, you believe this is not actually a problem, that the money is there somewhere and your husband just needs to look harder to find it. And when the money doesn’t materialize, you are astounded, your fantasy world obliterated.”
She returns at the end of the semester determined to make life in Appalachian North Carolina work. Enter chickens, then goats, as Jennifer and David work to produce their own food. While the first half of the book finds the author in a state of paralysis, the second half reveals her efforts to first reconcile herself to and then find simple pleasures in her new life. She learns to make cheese and soap, to help a goat give birth, to forgive her husband and herself.
Flat Broke with Two Goats is a brave book written in beautifully unflinching detail. McGaha lays bare the flaws in her marriage, the poor choices that led them to rock bottom and how they found their way to a new definition of home.