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Home Town Paperback – May 1, 2000
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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
Kidder (The Soul of the New Machine) applies his hands-on style of journalism to an examination of small-town AmericaAspecifically Northampton, Mass., home of Smith CollegeAthrough assembling a group portrait of some of its everyday citizens. His central premiseA"if you do all your growing up in the same small place, you don't shed identities, you accumulate them"Ais chiefly demonstrated through the story of Tommy, a local cop. He's first seen as a mischievous teenage townie, an "exuberant youth" wooing his high school sweetheart, living in a white clapboard house. As Tommy grows into adulthood, Kidder shows his life becoming more complex, as when a childhood friend and fellow cop is suspected of child abuse. Because Kidder's writing style is so descriptive, it abridges easily into self-contained observational episodes, and reader Krall, though animated in his character depictions, preserves Kidder's overriding tone of earnestness. Based on the 1999 Random House hardcover. (May)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
As usual with Kidder, his non-fiction prose read like a novel. And this story is a difficult one in that he had to blend more people and more place settings than he had to do in the other works of his I've read. Nevertheless, most of the internal stories pulled me in to the point I care about the people and what was happening to them.
I suspect Kidder had planned on this work to go in some different directions than never panned out over the course of the year he spent with the principals. For example, he includes a fair amount of foreshadowing about the upcoming Mayoral election, then then "pfft", the election happens as a non-story. I suspect he thought there would be a story line that never panned out--and perhaps there were some election characters he ended up not including.
The story of the police officer's best friend was, to me, the most gripping of the book. I can't imagine Kidder knew going in that this would become an important part of the narrative (I am staying vague here to avoid spoilers for those who have not yet read Home Town.)
My five stars are based on my own reading (albeit three years ago already), and the fact that I find myself buying this book as a gift to every friend who moves to a small New England town.
I don't imagine that the book is a perfectly accurate depiction of the town or the people in it. Nonetheless, it is an engaging one that perhaps can teach us about the people we pass every day on the sidewalk and in the grocery aisle.
Certainly, this isn't Kidder's top work. It does have its place, though, among Kidder's efforts to help us understand the communities we live in.