If you’re looking for a powerful, entertaining novel to read on the beach, or anywhere else, I heartily recommend ‘The Last Days of Dogtown’ by Anita Diamant. This is a ripping good read about a now abandoned settlement on Cape Ann in Massachusetts, just north of Gloucester and just west of Rockport in the early 1800s.
Dogtown was settled in the colonial period, when, being inland, it was safe from pirates and during the Revolutionary War, when it was safe from coastal bombardment. When the novel opens, the settlement is a bunch of abandoned homesteads made into hovels for the outcasts of society — poor widows, cruel drunks, prostitutes, orphans, and a pack of wild dogs left by the original settlers.
The first scene is a funeral or sorts for a cruel drunk everyone hated in the remnants of an inn kept by Easter Carter. As the characters enter, one by one, we take their measure, but there are too many and I thought Diamant was violating the ‘Cheers’ rule about how many characters you could have that the viewer/reader could keep track of.
But rules are made to be broken, and on my solemn oath, Diamant takes every one of these characters and makes them live. Not only that, but as the Kirkus Review blurb on the flyleaf says, these are characters that you care about. That’s what good fiction is all about, isn’t it? You want to see the cruel drunks get their comeuppance, you want to see the poor widows and orphans make a comfortable life for themselves.
That all happens in this gripping narrative.We don’t see people’s dreams come true, but the bad people get what’s coming to them and the good people make the best of what their destiny offers.
As readers of this blog well know, I’m not one for buying new books; I get too many great reads for a quarter. But I’m going to go get Anita Diamant’s novels ‘The Red Tent’ and ‘The Boston Girl.’
I also like the fact that Diamant, in the acknowlegments, credits her writing group partners, Amy Hoffman and Steve McCauley for their insight, patience, and support. When my daughter Sarah was a baby, her mother and I started a writer’s group in the library on Wednesday nights in Henniker, NH, which is still going strong more than 30 years later!