Seven days writers can’t read, let alone critique, all of the books that regularly arrive in the mail, email, and, in one memorable case, a black bear sloth. This monthly column is therefore our way of presenting a handful of books by Vermont authors to you. To do this, we contextualize each book a bit and quote a single representative sentence from, yes, page 32.
… And Master of None: A Memoir and Collected Stories
Jack Dennis, The Primavera Press, 150 pages. $ 12.
Someone had kicked her out and left me someone new to love.
Jack Dennis explores an abandoned flour mill with his childhood friends. He relishes the aroma of one of the fresh cans of Maxwell House coffee he opens every week for a cat-loving widow on his grocery delivery route. He has a platonic love affair with a cousin – referenced in the quote above – while they are both teenagers. Together, they listen to the broadcast of an atomic bomb test, wondering if, like their forbidden love, it could tear the world apart.
Johnson’s author Dennis continues his memories of his childhood in Manchester, New Hampshire, in this second memoir. His narration resembles a dream interpretation or as if he is assembling fragments of his past into a collage.
The self-describing author, filmmaker, writing teacher and futurist has a propensity to use quotes for inexplicable reasons – emphasis, perhaps? Still, Dennis’ tales have a mid-century charm, which makes sense, given he’s now a great-grandfather. His many descendants will have rich stories to draw on.
Living with the neighbors
Jodi Girouard, BookBaby, 237 pages. $ 17.95.
This episode had … started the anxiety spiral, but I had actually handled it well.
Most people can pack their bags and get away from bad neighbors. Things are more complicated for Jodi Girouard. In the introduction to her memoir, the South Burlington author explains why she uses the term “the neighbors” to refer to her auditory hallucinations – hostile voices she has heard since she was a teenager. “If the noise is just people talking through the wall,” she wrote, “it’s not that terrifying.”
Poet and essayist, Girouard describes himself as someone who “has lived with mental illness for most of his life and is active in promoting conversations aimed at reducing the stigma associated with such illness”. The story she tells in her memoirs, alternating poetry and prose, should do just that. If there is no magic remedy for “the neighbors”, Girouard evokes moments of happiness and grace alongside anguish. Weaving words together, she suggests, is in itself powerfully therapeutic: “I cling to patterns that bring peace. / And I breathe it ”.
Cassie Fancher, Green Writers Press, 240 pages. $ 19.95.
Mabel’s ashes were blowing in the wind and none of it mattered, not really.
Death, loss, and a pervasive sense of longing both shadow and illuminate Cassie Fancher’s debut collection of stories, which won the 2018 Howard Frank Mosher First Book Award. son, brothers, lovers, an aunt, a girlfriend, a pet sheep, a puppy and an aquarium full of fish. The death of these last three is felt as keenly as the others.
Fancher grew up in New Haven and divides his time between Vermont and graduate school in Florida. She constructs characters and sets meticulously, making fully dimensional dioramas from words. In the title story, which takes place in Barre when silicosis hovered over the granite sheds like the Reaper, the narrator reflects on the absence of her husband’s constant cough: “The silence of the house seems heavy, like something she can touch. ”
At the weight that permeates widows street, Fancher adds touches of dark humor. Vermonters will particularly appreciate the image of a teenager ramming his Subaru into the mailbox of his mother’s unreliable lover.
Being a Vermonter and the Rise and Fall of Holmes Farm 1822-1923
David R. Holmes, University of Vermont Center for Research on Vermont & White River Press, 256 pages. $ 22.
Jehiel Johns founded Huntington in the Vermont Wilderness. Its history borders on the mythical.
Studying your genealogy can inspire pride and surprise. Panton’s author David R. Holmes takes the exercise one step further: he explores how the life story of his ancestors deepens our understanding of Vermont and Vermonters.
In this well-researched volume, he recounts how three generations of Holmes responded to a myriad of forces with ingenuity and courage. They came from a sturdy background: Jehiel Johns fought in the War of Independence, built a house on land he had cleared, and served as Huntington’s moderator, justice of the peace and representative to the legislature.
His descendants of the Holmes family overcame environmental, political, economic and health challenges to operate an apple orchard and raise Morgan horses. They also faced difficulties which eventually closed their farm. Through it all, they have become classic Vermonters: hardworking, resilient, community-minded, morally guided, and able to find humor in the absurd. Not a bad legacy to discover.
As twisted as they come
Philip R. Jordan, Onion River Press, 361 pages. $ 19.99.
“Today, production began, not with the drawing of a curtain, but with the closing of a door …”
Jimmy “The Merchant” Callahan is an old Boston gangster with a bad score. His sister was a Combat Zone stripper with a heart of gold – until someone filled him with lead. When he sets out to avenge his death decades later, Jimmy discovers a sordid story that many would rather keep buried.
In his novel As twisted as they comeSunderland author Philip R. Jordan weaves a common thread that crackles with tension and humor. The retired editor and publisher of Vermont Magazine, Jordan has clearly had its day in the harsh pages of renowned inspiration George V. Higgins, James Ellroy and Jimmy Breslin. The cast of goofy crooks who populate its North End street corners and Dorchester back rooms are reminiscent of the stage thief sidemen in Jonathan Lethem Brooklyn without mother.
But the most beautifully rendered character in the book is Boston itself. Jordan’s affection for the Hub gives its story a sense of place as vivid as a Southern accent.