Sunday 22 October 2017

Thoughts on a small town setting...

On this gloriously bright, mild fall morning, I’m sitting with a cup of steaming chai tea and a delicious date bar... but I have no books to tell you about.  Between false starts with a couple of uninteresting books, appointments, meetings and get-togethers with friends, I had only two regular reading days last week and so did not get very far in the excellent new book by Wayne Johnston, First Snow, Last Light, which I will tell you about next week.

I was in my hometown yesterday visiting family, which gave me an idea for a post topic that I think most readers can relate to:  the small town.  I grew up in a city of 41 000 people, which is significantly smaller than those cities Ive inhabited as an adult, first Toronto and now Kitchener-Waterloo.  Every time I go back for a visit and have a walk around town, I naturally experience some nostalgic moments as I think about my past, and I’m reminded of the ways a small town setting is often used in novels, both classic and current.  My student book club is reading To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, set in the small town of Maycomb, Alabama, where racial inequality and loss of innocence are the main themes.  My favourite book of all time, The Winter of our Discontent by John Steinbeck, is also set in the small East Coast town of New Baytown, and deals with loss of innocence and moral degradation.  These two are classics, but more current works set in small towns include A Casual Vacancy by J K Rowling (class struggles and inequality), The Best Kind of People by Zoe Whittall (sexual abuse) and The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair by Joël Dicker (love, death and buried secrets).  What is it about small towns that inspire writers to create such poignant works?  Perhaps a small town offers the opportunity to examine a microcosm of society where only a handful of characters need to be presented, allowing for a depth of exploration that is more difficult in a story set in a big city.  Or perhaps it’s the “prevalence of innocence” (I don’t know how else to describe it) that seems to exist in a small town, the appearance that all is exactly what it seems, where crime is rare and everyone keeps track of everyone, yet somehow folks are always able to keep so many secrets hidden for years, sometimes decades, and the opportunity to uncover those secrets is positively irresistible! Whatever the reasons, novels set in small towns seem to be the ones that delve most deeply into the psyche of the main characters, and do the best job at examining the dynamics between these characters and exploring the human condition.

That’s all for today.  Get outside and enjoy the wonderful weather before it turns cool and possibly rainy next week.

Bye for now…

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