Though the cover and the title may look depressing, this book is nothing of the sort. Loosely based on true stories, the novel revolves around the lives of the last few inhabitants of a tiny rural town that eventually becomes deserted in the 1800s. The first story is that of Judy Rhines, a kind and generous woman who falls in love with a former slave. The pain of their secret and the hopelessness of their situation consume both of them, which seems to be a standing theme in the lives of the poor people of Dogtown. Despite the sad way some of the stories turn out, there are those characters whose lives turn around when they leave to find a better life for themselves. It is the truth in the characters’ backgrounds, emotions, and relationships and the novel’s underlying theme of hope that makes this historical novel worth curling up with in stormy (or any kind of) weather.
The writing style
It seems Diamant’s styles are refreshingly different with each of her novels. In this one, she writes about the lives of different characters, but manages to tie them all together in one cohesive novel. It does not feel like a collection of separate short stories. Each story seamlessly flows with the rest. At the same time, each character is given enough focus that they do not seem half-baked despite the short space given to their stories in the novel.Through Diamant’s writing style, you will feel as if you are transported to this poor, lonely, dying town, and even if the inhabitants either cannot wait to leave or have resigned themselves to their hopeless fate, you will strongly care about not just the characters (that is a given because of how beautifully she has crafted them) but also about this place—this place that really exists.
Though maybe not a reason for some people to pick up a book, the historical basis of this novel makes it even more meaningful. Dogtown is not a fictional place, it truly existed on Cape Ann in America. There is a map on one of the first few pages so you can see where it used to be. In her author’s note, Diamant says she came across a short volume of stories on the last inhabitants of Dogtown based on “gossip and hearsay.” But she goes on to say, “the death of a village, even one as poor and small as Dogtown, is not an altogether trivial thing.” Her novel has definitely brought this point home.
Bookshelf Meter: 4.5 stars
1 star – Don’t even bother.
2 stars – Since there’s nothing else to read…
3 stars – Worth borrowing from a friend, but not buying your own
4 stars – Deserves a spot on your nightstand.
5 stars – Grab this book now and forget the one you’re reading!
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Olivia Yao has been writing ever since she can remember. She has written for health, teen, parenting, and children's magazines. Her latest endeavor is being a mom to her three-year-old daughter—her toughest assignment yet.
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