8.13.2009

Anita Diamant's The Last Days of Dogtown

Anita Diamant was inspired to write The Last Days of Dogtown to give voice to “the voiceless,” the spinsters, widows, orphaned children, Africans – both slave and free – whom “history has forgotten.” After finding a small pamphlet in a Gloucester, Mass. bookstore, she began to wonder about who Judy Rhines, Black Ruth, and Esther Carter might have been. These three inspired the cast of characters that would comprise The Last Days of Dogtown.

Diamant’s third novel is more a series of vignettes than a novel, and the narrative arc pertains more to the decline of Dogtown than to any specific character. There is love, loss, disease, triumph, and hardship, but the desire to find out what happens to the characters is far more compelling than the desire to find out what happens, as there is little plot beyond the humdrum events of daily life and the background stories of the characters.

The chronicle opens after the death of a town elder, and it is clear that this is a bellwether moment for the town. With Abraham gone, many of his family will leave, and there will be few left in the settlement to argue for its legitimacy. This funeral sets the dismal, “death at the door” atmosphere that permeates the entire novel, but it also introduces us to the group of people that we will drop in on, observe, and grow to love – or hate – over the next few hundred pages. Diamant sets up camp in the middle of this dying town and takes each character in turn, explaining their personal histories, how they came to be in Dogtown, how they survive, and what their secrets are. The result is a patchwork quilt of a chronicle, one that takes the reader to the heart of small town New England life in the early 1800s.

If you liked this, you might also like:
The Crucible by Arthur Miller
The Scarlett Letter by Nathanial Hawthorne
The Heretic’s Daughter – Kathleen Kent

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