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Views and opinions: Appalachian transplant's timely tale of fortune lost


Flat Broke with Two Goats: A Memoir of Appalachia by Jennifer McGaha

c.2018, Sourcebooks

$15.99/Higher in Canada

368 pages

It could never happen to you. Other people have problems. They don’t plan, they don’t act, they aren’t paying attention and that leads to issues they can’t deal with.

That kind of thing happens to other people. In the new book Flat Broke with Two Goats by Jennifer McGaha, it can’t happen to you – until it does.

After the mailman bounced his way up a mile-long, rutted mud driveway to hand Jennifer McGaha a registered envelope, she didn’t want to open it. She knew what was inside. It was confirmation for something that had already happened: Her beautiful, sun-filled, large-kitchened house in North Carolina was already in the process of being foreclosed upon.

The nightmare started with a bad economy; as neighbors and clients lost jobs, they stopped needing her husband’s accounting expertise. Because of home repairs and private school tuition for the McGahas’ three children, there was little money for savings.

And when McGaha heard her husband crying into his pillow in the middle of one night, things became worse: They were in debt to the IRS for a lot of money – as in, almost-mid-six figures. Possible jail term aside, McGaha was stunned and terrified. She’d grown up never having to worry about money. Now, the worry never left her mind, and she considered walking away from it all but her youngest son was still in high school.

With few options left, the family moved to the only place they could afford: A lush valley with a snake- and mice-infested, half-rotted ramshackle cabin with no internet, no cable TV, spotty cell phone reception and a boiler for making hot water. Adding insult to injury, McGaha lost three beloved elderly relatives in quick succession.

Bereft and grieving, she took a job out-of-state and contemplated staying in Illinois but she couldn’t; home was in North Carolina . So was her heart, a penitent husband, family, chickens, later goats and, eventually, a decision. In thinking about her old life and yesterday’s actions, says McGaha: “I choose this.”

There but for the grace of God …

You may say that a time or two, or ten, as you’re reading Flat Broke with Two Goats, and for good reason. Statistics say that more than half of our neighbors are uncomfortably close to the first part of its title.

For sure, author Jennifer McGaha tells a lip-biting story that starts out bad and grows worse, as tragedy piles on top of hardship stacks on humiliation.

If you’re rolling your eyes, though, stop: While McGaha abundantly writes of the pain of loss and the turmoil in her emotions, she takes her share of responsibility here. She also admits how she almost didn’t do even that. The anxiety is almost like putty, it’s so thick.

By the time you get to the section of this book that contains both a sense of uneasy relief and droll humor, you’ll be wrung out and ready for it, especially if your imagination follows along. You’ll be alarmed, breathless and ultimately charmed by Flat Broke with Two Goats because yes – it could happen to you.


Terri Schlichenmeyer has been reading since she was three years old and never goes anywhere without a book. She lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 14,000 books.