Friday, June 12, 2009

why the devil chose new england for his work

Isn't that the best title ever for a short story collection?

These stories by Jason Brown take place in rural central Maine in the fictionalized town of Vaughn. They remind me of Flannery O'Conner's stories in that the main characters are often the marginalized. The difference is that in Maine, the word "marginalized" describes most of the population. I identified very strongly with the inhabitants of Vaughn--sometimes too much for comfort.

I have tried to describe to people who ask and really care to know, how rural Maine is different from other places. I've never been able to explain to my satisfaction or theirs.
Now when people ask me about Maine, my Maine, I'm going to hand them this book. These stories say everything about growing up in small-town Maine I've never been able to say. I suppose I should qualify "everything." These stories reveal the psychological complexities that always fascinated me growing up there. There is a lot of darkness, violence, and evil. Thus, the title, I suppose. The devil certainly does his share of work in northern New England. These are not happy, feel-good stories, as you might have guessed by now. There is nothing graphic and the language is remarkably clean compared to how most Mainers talk. However, I found myself pausing at certain points to marvel at the astuteness of the writer's commentary on rural Maine's humanity. They are razor sharp observations.

What I found most remarkable is the tenderness in the portrayal of the very flawed, downright sinful characters. The depictions of the characters and their foibles are unfailingly truthful, but many writers can be truthful. The depictions are also compassionate, and that is what raises these stories above others of similar themes.

I finished the book a few days ago and I still can't stop thinking about these stories. They haunt me. I wish someone would read this book so that we could talk about it!
I found this interview of the author, and I appreciated what he said here: "As I grew into the project, I began to feel [...] that I was documenting a vanishing place, a place with its own specific history, vernacular language, architecture, customs, relationship to the land, etc. This place had been lost to me, because I had left to escape the confines and claustrophobia that exist in any isolated small community, but when I looked back (and went back) I realized that the great maw of progress, American culture, was gobbling up the place I had known. [...] I did begin to feel [...] that there was something tragic about the loss I was witnessing and experiencing because the cultural forces taking over the area of Maine where I had grown up (and so much of rural America and the world) was soulless, for lack of a better word—it had no connection to the place, didn’t care about the history or people. It was voracious in its appetite and unrelenting in its ability to forget."


Ave said...

I'm intrigued. Will have to look him up at the library. You know who should write stories about growing up in Maine, Gram!

Calandria said...

Gram could write a book just about her clients.

Gabriela said...

I just was listening to an NPR podcast and this book was reviewed. It sounds really good. hmmmm, I think my book club wants to read it, I'll have to get it next week.

ML said...

Fantastic idea--I absolutely agree Ave. I'm going to talk with her about that this summer. (The client book would have to be separate--and in the adult section of the bookstore!)

Mama Ava said...

Hey, Stephen King is from Maine and if even a smidge of THAT stuff goes on up there, I'm staying home! :-)

I know a lot of people don't like him, but I think he has such a masterful command of dialogue--the way "plain folks" talk. I alwasy feel like I can hear them and that accent whenever I read his books--it's one of my favorite aspects of his writing. His world reminds me of Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County.

Calandria said...

I think Gram should write stories based on her childhood, too. That would be great reading, and it would, as Jason Brown says, be a way of preserving a culture that is dying.

Gabriela, I heard about this book on NPR, too. I think it was a segment on great summer reading.

Welcome home, Mama Ava!! I agree that Stephen King gets some things right about Maine, especially the dialogue. But I think he misses a lot of the nuances.

Anonymous said...

I happen to know that people in Maine do not respect large ancient rocks.

Ave said...

What are you talking about a culture that is dying? Maybe I'll have to find out by reading the book, but to me who is the only one who has commented so far living in Maine, the culture seems just the same. The only difference is you all keep moving out and becoming "out of staters."

Anonymous said...

I would not move out and be an 'outah stateah' if big business and big government didn't move all the work over to China and make poor quality goods. There is no pride anymore in quality.

I'm not sure Mom is allowed to write about her clients. Not unless they are dead or something.

I think our family pretty colorful...hee hee

Calandria said...

Gram couldn't write a memoir or anything with her clients' real names, but she could write some pretty impactful "fiction."

As far as a culture that is dying, I think he probably refers to the people from other places moving into southern and coastal Maine. There are people who move in who honor the culture, history, traditions, and values of our State, and then there are those who don't. Also, everywhere in the US regions are losing their distinctiveness because as he calls it, the general American culture gobbles them up.

I think it is also possible to have moved away from Maine and still honor and respect the history and culture.