This blog is now retired. My new site is at: Predictably Irrational.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Book Review: The Last Days of Dogtown by Anita Diamant

I picked this book up the same time I purchased The Red Tent (also by Diamant). The bookstore guy mentioned that he had heard good things about it. It had an interesting cover and it was "short" (263 pages) so I felt an attraction to read it.

Diamant has an amazing art to creating a story behind a line or two. She did this with The Red Tent - taking a line out of the bible about Dinah and creating an entire story behind Dinah and her life. She did the same with The Last Days of Dogtown.

Dogtown is a real settlement from the 1800s. And there are ruins, to this day, in Massachussetts, that signifies where this settlement occurred.

So Diamant's story is about what happened to Dogtown and its inhabitants, in the last years before the people of the settlement are gone.

Dogtown is a place of ruins. The hovels that the inhabitants live in are barely liveable. Rooftops barely cover the small enclosures, with floors of dirt and leaves. It gets cold and the people of Dogtown have little to keep warm, except a few who are lucky enough to befriend a stray dog who will seek shelter in their hovels, thus, snuggling at their feet, keeping each other warm.

Judith Rhines is the first person that we meet. Although not really the protaganist of this novel, she is the essence of it as it ends with Judith's departure from Dogtown's familiar folk.

Diamant details each inhabitant of Dogtown and their life within this 'town' and how they eventually left. Most of them were able to move into nearby Gloucester while a rare few past away within Dogtown.

It is a depressing story depicting a very hard life to live in the 1800s. No electricity, food was not a readily available (hunting & gathering), and jobs were not plentiful -- especially for women.

And among the poorest places, Dogtown was a pariah to other settlements. The reputation of the town was that it was full of whores and witches. The residents of Dogtown tried to escape the reputation of being from there, from where even the very religious preachers would not pray for the dead at funerals.

It is a fascinating read. I truly enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed The Red Tent. Diamant is an amazing writer and I'm duly impressed with these two novels, in how she was able to create an amazing story from a line or two of history and/or the bible.

Her writing style, IMO, is classic and I believe these two books will be classified as such as time goes on.

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