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Dogtown: Death and Enchantment in a New England Ghost Town Hardcover – December 1, 2009

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; First Edition edition (December 1, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416587047
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416587040
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (63 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,053,798 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

[Signature]Reviewed by Joyce Carol OatesThis is a work of narrative nonfiction in which I attempt to tell the story of a landscape—Gloucester, Massachusetts's Dogtown. The author's succinct description of her fascinating, richly detailed and remarkably evocative exploration of a long-deserted colonial village amid a 3,600-acre woodland doesn't do justice to the quirky originality of Dogtown. Part history of a most unusual region; part commentary on the art of the American Modernist painter Marsden Hartley; part murder mystery/true crime police procedural; and part memoir, East's first book is likely to appeal to a varied audience for whom Dogtown, Mass., is utterly unknown.East was initially drawn to Dogtown through the landscape paintings of Hartley—a gifted and undervalued contemporary of Georgia O'Keeffe, Arthur Dove and John Marin. Led to investigate the landscape Hartley painted, East soon finds herself, like the protagonist of a mystery, ever more deeply involved with the colonial ruin—is it a place of mystical wonder, or is it an accursed landscape? In colonial times, Dogtown was a marginal area of Gloucester said to be a haven for former slaves, prostitutes and witches; in the 20th century, it was largely abandoned and became a sort of uncharted place where, in a notorious 1984 incident, a mentally deranged sex offender murdered a young woman teacher in the woods.East is thorough in her descriptions of the attractive young victim and the loathsome murderer—a devastating portrait of the type of predator of whom it's said he would never hurt anyone. Though the true crime chapters—which alternate with chapters presenting the tangled history of Dogtown—are inevitably more interesting, East gracefully integrates her various themes into a coherent and mesmerizing whole. In her admiration for Hartley, East kindles in the reader a wish to see his works, as well as the allegedly mystical landscape that inspired them; it would have been a good idea to include color plates of some of Hartley's work, juxtaposed with the landscapes. Also, the true crime chapters—written with appalled compassion—and the detailed portraits of individuals involved—the murderer, the victim, the victim's husband and his family, several police officers—would benefit from photographs as well. Late in Dogtown, as if the author's inventiveness were flagging and her material running thin, there are digressions into local politics that will be of limited interest.Dogtown is surprisingly spare in personal information. We learn only a few facts about the engaging young writer whose life was so changed when she first saw Hartley's paintings that, five years later, she was led to the adventure of Dogtown, which would involve her for 10 years. This is most unusually self-effacing, particularly in our rabidly confessional times. Some readers will appreciate the author's vanishing into her subject, which is certainly strong enough to stand alone, while others might feel an absence in this evocation of, as Hartley described it, one of these strange wild places... where the chemistry of the universe is too busy realizing itself.Joyce Carol Oates's latest novel is Little Bird of Heaven (HarperCollins/Ecco).
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Adjacent to the seaport of Gloucester, Massachusetts, lies a forested tract of several square miles known as Dogtown. Initially drawn to the area by her interest in modernist painter Marsden Hartley, who depicted landscapes of Dogtown in the 1930s, East discovered that stories about the place extend back to colonial times. In lissome prose, East creates a remarkable depiction of the town that flexibly mixes history, character sketches, and personal observations. Everything East encounters in and about Dogtown seems to warn against, if not repel, human presence; a feeling of intruding upon a haunted place infuses her description of it. Ruins jut from Dogtown’s undergrowth—erratic boulders abandoned by the Ice Age, the wreck of a settlement, modern-day trash, and the scene of a 1984 murder. That’s when a local eccentric bludgeoned a woman to death. That in the backgrounds of both murderer and victim there were starkly contrasting attractions to the woods of Dogtown provokes East’s most acute insights into what the area means to people. An artfully wrought, absorbing debut. --Gilbert Taylor

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Customer Reviews

The book has too much padding, too much babble, and in short, it's just too boring.
Alexander Lucard
A lot of research was done for this story, and East succeeds in making the stories weave well into one another.
If you enjoy reading about intrique historical places, this book is an extremely interesting read.
Beverly Yacovitch

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By jd103 on December 8, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
About 35 years ago, I got excited to hear Harry Chapin singing about (broadly speaking) my part of the world:

"Up in Massachusetts there's a little spit of land
The men who make the maps, yes, they call the place Cape Ann
The men who do the fishing call it Gloucester Harbor Sound
But the women left behind, they call the place Dogtown"
Heads & Tales

So when I got this book, one of the first things I did was check the index and found that the song was mentioned. Next, I looked up Thoreau and found that his journal entry about the area was quoted.

When I actually started reading, I soon realized that this is indeed a book with a little of whatever you're looking for. But contrary to the song lyric, one of the main threads of this book involves a man left behind, not by a ship lost at sea but by a brutal murder in Dogtown. Along with walks on the trails of Dogtown, you'll also find explorations of the area's history from colonists to witches to pirates, and the reactions of an artist and a poet and the author to this strange area of land.

It's strange not only because it's an undeveloped area of land near a major city (not just undeveloped--in many cases it's not even known who if anyone owns the land) or because of the boulders engraved with odd phrases, but because many people feel something unusual about the place. I have to admit I'm one of them. It was the early 90s before I first hiked Dogtown, a few years after the murder featured in the book which I didn't know about at the time. I saw the boulders, and the broken Whale's Jaw, and got lost on the many trails.
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21 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Keith Blodgett VINE VOICE on December 27, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Elyssa East's favorite artist produced a series of paintings based on the abandoned Dogtown wilderness near Gloucester, MA. Trying to find some spiritual growth she visited the area, heard some of the typical small town New England gossip that surrounds any area that's been inhabited for hundreds of years and decided to write a book about the place.

It feels like she started out to write a biography of the artist, Marsden Hartley, found that wouldn't make more than a short story then decided to add in the tale of a recent (1980's) murder that took place inside of the Dogtown wilderness when THAT turned out to not be enough to flesh out a book the author then dug up every and any bit of trivia, folklore, rumor and anecdote she could find no matter how distantly related to the main subject, Dogtown. As an example when a somewhat famous poet is mentioned as having spent time in the area we're also treated to the details of a school he taught at, every famous person who also taught at the school even if they had nothing to do with Dogtown. The story meanders; wandering from the past to the present while infrequently touching back on the 1980's murder story.

There's far too much padding added to the book. I struggled for far longer than necessary for a book of this length. In the end the I found it hard to follow and just wanted it to end. I'm sure there are better histories of the Gloucester area out there and while they may not touch on or even mention Dogtown that's probably because in the grand scheme of things very little of real interest ever did happened there in it's hundreds of years of existence.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Bookreporter on December 8, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Who doesn't love a ghost story? Remember telling creepy tales around the campfire, deep in the woods, shivering with fear while eerie screeches and spooky sounds emanated out of the shadows of the night? Those were myths and legends designed to leave listeners glancing over their shoulders with a growing unease or cause a sleepless night. But Dogtown, an abandoned colonial community in Massachusetts' Cape Ann area, is a real place, one that many have claimed is haunted. It has a past rich in scary stories, witches and warlocks, ghost sightings, and general hair-raising, spine-tingling malaise among its visitors. And it also has a real-life bogeyman in its sinister history and has now become a genuine ghost town.

As far back as anyone can remember, Dogtown has lured famous writers, poets, painters and sculptors --- all drawn there by its unique countryside and its strange residents. One such artist's undertaking was to carve huge boulders heralding life lessons and tidings such as "Be on time" or simply "Courage." The Dogtown people prided themselves on their oddity; you might even say they reveled in it. At least, until one man carried his peculiarity too far, descending into perversion, and killed not only a well-loved local woman but also Dogtown's sense of uneasy peace.

The same reasons that drew previous authors to explore Dogtown drew Elyssa East to the community as well. She felt an urge to see what had so entranced a man named Marsden Hartley to create a series of paintings of its distinctive landscape. But what she discovered was Dogtown's dark past, one that involved Peter Hodgkins. Something made Peter different from everyone else; his tastes leaned toward deviance, a proclivity that might have triggered alarms had the right people been paying attention.
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