Author Martha McPhee on Returning to Her NJ Childhood Home

McPhee's first memoir, Omega Farm, arose amid her homecoming to Hunterdon County, where she cared for her ailing mother and confronted her chaotic youth.

Headshot of author Martha McPhee
Novelist Martha McPhee has written her first memoir, Omega Farm. Photo: Ann Billingsley

During the pandemic, many people ended up returning to their childhood homes to shelter in place, and novelist Martha McPhee was one of them. She and her family went back to her mother’s farm in Hunterdon County to escape New York City in 2020, living in the home where she was raised.

In her first memoir, Omega Farm, McPhee details how she, her husband and their two kids lived with her ailing mother, who was suffering from dementia, for a year. It was a chance for her to care for her mother, but she also began to realize that the house and the 45 acres of property were in a state of serious disrepair.

Book jacket of "Omega Farm" by Martha McPhee

Omega Farm is out September 12.

While living at Omega Farm, McPhee began to manage the forest surrounding her mother’s home, leading to the massive job of replacing the forest’s understory and controlling the deer—as well as to a greater understanding of forest ecology. 

McPhee is the daughter of celebrated Princeton writer John McPhee. Her parents divorced when she was young. She lived for most of her childhood with her mother, a photographer, and her stepfather, a dreamer and self-proclaimed Gestalt therapist who would meet clients naked in the indoor pool, as well as her four sisters and five stepsiblings. 

As McPhee embarked on the home-improvement projects, she began to confront her complicated and chaotic childhood and how it had affected her. 

But her purpose was to “recognize one single life, my mother’s, who had given life to me, to bear witness as she slowly came unmoored, and as my mother became a ghost, to find a way to hold onto that remnant of her, the farm, that I might find—and further—its purpose.”

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