4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
"Being a slave had seemed a lot like being a woman.",
This review is from: The Last Days of Dogtown: A Novel (Hardcover)
Telling the story of the slow abandonment of the village of Dogtown within the city of Gloucester on Cape Ann, Massachusetts, Anita Diamant creates character sketches and vignettes showing the lives of its diverse residents, as they slowly forsake Dogtown for the city during the course of the novel. Ruth, a former slave, who dresses in men's clothing and once called herself John Woodman; Judy Rhines, a nurturing woman who takes care of an invalid in Gloucester; Sammy Stanley, a young man who has grown up in a Dogtown brothel; Easter Carter, who runs an informal tavern in her home and provides Ruth with an attic room; Cornelius, an African, who has secretly shared the love of a white woman in Dogtown; John Stanwood, a rake and thief who draws men to Mrs. Stanley's bawdy house; and Oliver Younger and Polly Boynton, whose courtship, marriage, and family breathe new life into the village, at least temporarily--all are vividly drawn local characters who show their long attachments to Dogtown.
Through these quirky characters, rather than through a strong, unified plot, Diamant recreates life in the early 1800s in this village, where the soil is rocky, the fresh water supply is limited, the weather is cruel, the opportunities for employment are almost non-existent, and the distance from the center of Gloucester and its seaport is well over an hour by foot. The characters, often intriguing, reveal their beliefs and customs--from how to pull a tooth to how to build a stone wall--giving depth to the picture of Dogtown life and showing its contrasts with the more prosperous surrounding area of Cape Ann. Diamant also provides some humor, particularly when John Stanwood believes he has seen an angel and undergoes a dramatic change of personality, but she also shows the unkindness of some of the clergy when the poor and those who are irregular church-goers are in need of their services.
As the characters, one by one, leave the dismal village of Dogtown, their departure is paralleled by the decline in the population of semi-wild dogs which give the village its name. Interesting and pleasant reading, the novel paints a picture of a unique time and place, populated by characters whose lives sometimes overlap in semi-independent episodes. Diamant does not develop a strong, unified plot, however, and the story of the "last days" is presented as an end in itself, rather than as an opportunity to develop strong universal themes. (3.5 stars) n Mary Whipple