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Home Town Paperback – May 1, 2000

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Editorial Reviews Review

Northampton, Massachusetts, boasts a rich history that dates back to the 17th century. It is home to Mount Holyoke, which has been climbed by Charles Dickens and Henry James (among others), and to Sylvia Plath's alma mater, Smith College. It has always been the quintessential New England town, while becoming in recent years a politically progressive small city, whose population of 30,000 has WASPs rubbing elbows with lesbians, immigrants, students, and the homeless. Driven by a narrative force comparable to that of the best fiction, Home Town is a remarkable evocation of small-town life at the end of the 20th century.

Probing beneath Northampton's friendly exterior, Pulitzer-winning author Tracy Kidder uncovers the town's many layers, from the lowest to the highest rungs of society, and renders a portrait of Northampton by introducing those who know it best. Kidder relies most heavily on native Tommy O'Connor, a 33-year-old police sergeant who has never left his beloved hometown. Tommy's optimism and gentle humor make him an appealing guide, as he shows both the darkest and most charming streets of his town and wrestles with a future that may forever alter his relationship to Northampton. Kidder also introduces readers to Laura Baumeister, a young working mother and Ada Comstock scholar at Smith College who is struggling to care for her son and keep up with the rigorous school curriculum; Alan Scheinman, a real estate lawyer who made a fortune in the 1980s, now plagued by a crippling case of obsessive-compulsive disorder; and Samson Rodriguez, a former loom operator who may have been one of the first people to bring crack cocaine to Northampton. --Kera Bolonik --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

The small Massachusetts city of Northampton, tucked away in the Berkshires, makes a compelling case study of civilization's highest aspirations and its inevitable chaotic failures. Combining postcard prettiness and urban peril, Northampton, writes Kidder (Old Friends, etc.), "still preserves the old pattern of the New England township, a place with a full set of parts." That set includes apparent order (its population has changed little in 40 years), leafy neighborhoods, a thriving downtown and the elite Smith College. But through that stability run cracks: ragged housing projects, crumbling infrastructure and crime. Kidder finds Northampton capable of harboring "appalling abundance" in the private lives of its 30,000 citizens, and he taps the town's diversity selectively, profiling a single mother from California who studies at Smith, a crack-addled drug informant, a judge, a lawyer whose obsessive compulsive disorder occasions bizarre behavior and, at greatest length, a 33-year-old police sergeant who touches all their lives to varying degrees. As Kidder contrasts diverse newcomers' delight with the more seasoned, conflicted emotions of natives, his book turns into an examination of what holds those who stay, what draws those who come and what haunts those who leave. Kidder's vision combines the realistic detail of a documentary with the broad sweep and imagination of a 19th-century novel of the streets. His assessment of Northampton's unruly equilibrium is an apt description of this book: "somehow it works," and very well. BOMC selection; first serial to the Atlantic Monthly.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Washington Square Press; First Thus edition (May 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0671785214
  • ISBN-13: 978-0671785215
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1.3 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (66 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #813,596 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Tracy Kidder graduated from Harvard and studied at the University of Iowa. He has won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the Robert F. Kennedy Award, and many other literary prizes. The author of Mountains Beyond Mountains, My Detachment, Home Town, Old Friends, Among Schoolchildren, House, and The Soul of a New Machine, Kidder lives in Massachusetts and Maine.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

31 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Gary Delsohn on February 29, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Tracy Kidder is the best non-fiction writer in America since John McPhee went off the deep end and became fixated on rocks. Kidder takes seemingly small subjects, in this case a nice little town in Massachusetts that works pretty well for most of the people who live there, and manages to tell us a great deal about a great many things: cops, friends, yearning for family, homelessness, a single woman's dreams and even obsessive-compulsive disorder. The writing seems effortless but only because the book is so well crafted. This is one of those books where you feel you have more life inside you simply for having read it. He manages to bring real people to life in a way that makes us truly care about what happens to them. A less talented writer might tell his or her publisher I want to spend a year watching what happens in a small town and the publisher might say forget about it. In Kidder's hands it works beautifully, as we've come to expect. I loved this book.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By R. Witte on July 25, 2000
Format: Paperback
HOME TOWN by Tracy Kidder is a highly entertaining and compelling book where truth is indeed, stranger than fiction, and certainly more entertaining. Kidder writes about the sleepy town of Northampton, Massachusetts, a town that at first glance seems like any other typical small town. Its inhabitants are anything but. There's the local judge who sentences his neighbors, the millionaire with a devastating disorder, a single mother struggling to begin a new life who enrolls at Smith College, a likeable crack addict who works as a police informant, a cop who is accused of a terrible crime and vilified by the town, and holding it all together is life-long resident and detective, Tommy O'Connor, Northampton's paen to small town family life, and its moral glue. HOME TOWN examines what it's like to grow up and live your whole life in the same town and the trepditation that goes with leaving it, about wanting more than what life has to offer, and about loyalty and virtue. Although this is a work of nonfiction, it reads like a novel and is an extremely engaging story and an excellent book.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By on April 27, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Tracy Kidder continues his reign as a top writer of narrative non-fiction in 'Home Town', a book well worth reading for the engaging character portraits alone. Literature if full of stories of good and evil. In this book the good people, like father-of-the-protagonist Bill O'Connor, are charming, funny, and very good. Interestingly, most of the bad guys are at least a little bit good too. While other excellent authors have successfully built around dramatic events (Perfect Storm, Thin Air), Kidder crafted this story around a vibrant community, the people who make it work, and the people who test its limits. The book could just as easily have been set in Santa Fe, Charleston, or a thousand other interesting places. As one of the legion of Northampton expatriates who follow the community through the local paper's, I have to admit that Kidder showed me parts of the town that I had missed in 25 years of living there and 15 years of watching from afar. News reports of horrible tragedies around our Nation focus us on places that have imploded in social disaster. 'Home Town' shows in contrast a community that is at least narrowly winning the struggle to achieve comity and civility...and have some fun.
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16 of 20 people found the following review helpful By on July 10, 1999
Format: Hardcover
First I must say I am a fan of Kidder's, and truly enjoyed 2 of his other books that I've read ("Soul of a New Machine" and "House"). And the writing is this book is as splendid as ever.
Something, else, though, is wrong. In the previous books I've read Kidder was following a small group of people, and you got a sense of their larger mission and purpose (build a new computer, etc) thru his depictions of the people and their interactions. And few are better at their craft then Kidder.
So when I read that Kidder raised his sights from a small group to encompass a small town, I was eagerly anticipating the book. Sadly, he is unable to deliver. While he plumbs the character of a few people in the town, a larger sense of the town and what its like is missing. He tells us, for example, that most people born there leave and are replaced. Yet telling a detailed story of one immigrant is far from capturing the range of experiences newcomers encounter, moving to a place where many people have ties that go back generations.
There's so many things I hoped a writer with Kidder's talent would have addressed but find nary a mention. The whole small-town vs big-city dilemma, for example. If you're sick do you stick with a local doc or go to the city? How do merchants compete with the big malls? Are students in the local HS at a disadvantage applying for college coming from a HS with more limited resources? What are sports like? Do people root for local teams (probably HS or amateur level) or identify with city teams? The performing arts?
I could go on and on, but to summarize I'd say that its a shame that a writer as skilled as Kidder misses the forest for a few trees.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 18, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Towns are towns. All of them have richer people and poorer people. All of them have newcomers and founding families. Northampton is no exception. Yes, Northampton may be atypical because of the presence of Smith College, but this atypicality is superficial. Northampton residents choose to get really bent out of shape about global stuff, while it could be argued that residents in most towns pay attention only to what is going on around them (and only part of that). The common principle here is that people tend to get distracted from what is really important and so, in that essential sense, Northampton is typical.
I lived in Northampton briefly and for a longer time across the river in Amherst. During my summer in Northampton I worked at a deli in Florence. This place was frequently by residents of "the Hamp" as opposed to residents of "Noho" and I got a very clear idea of the friction that exists between these two camps. I would argue that this too is increasingly typical in American towns. In my own Hudson Valley home town, New Yorkers moved in and radically changed a very depressed part of Main Street into a swanky district full of boutiques, bakeries, antique shops. Did the old timers appreciate it? No.
I have read all of Tracy Kidder's books except _Old Friends_. _Home Town_ has more anastamosing narrative threads than his previous books have and I believe that he has been very successful in this attempt to broaden the typical scope of his vision. Some of the characters in the book have nothing to do with each other or meet only glancingly, which is just like what it is like to live in a town of 30,000 people. No one is objectively extraneous, although they may be extraneous to your own life.
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