Customer Reviews: Home Town
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on February 29, 2000
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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on July 25, 2000
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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on April 27, 1999
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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on September 30, 2012
I read some of the weaker reviews here before writing this, and I just don't see how people who have enjoyed his other books didn't also love this one.

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.
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on July 10, 1999
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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on May 18, 1999
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. The reader can not approach this book as if it were a Dickens or Eliot novel, wherein everyone's lives are densely interwoven. Kidder is describing actual life, not some contrived closed universe.
Kidder as narrator is not present at all in this book. He is omniscient, but he is never distant. In this regard he reminds me of John McPhee. I love "New Journalism" (Tom Wolfe, P.J. O'Rourke etc.), but it is refreshing to read this more traditional kind of reporting when it is so well done. Toward the end of the book I was surprised to realize that I probably would not like the main character, Tommy O'Connor, if I met him in person, but Kidder presented him so completely and so sympathetically that I ended up respecting O'Connor, even if I, like the mayor and the judge, would feel a bit nervous having him as a town cop.
If you have a home town, then I would be surprised if you didn't find it in this book.
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I don't read much non-fiction that isn't science-oriented these days, but I found this book hard to put down. Having read Theodore Dreiser and Hawthorne at an early age, but not having many other literary reference points, I associated books about New England towns with characters whose personalities were as flinty as the soil of their native New England. However, Kidder's characters (who are real, and not fictional) are far-removed from this stereotype and painted with a great deal of compassion and nostalgia. Silly me.
Kidder's book evokes the appealing ambience of this small Massachusetts town through the lives of a number of its citizens. Through the eyes of Tommy, the likeable and dedicated local detective, we get a glimpse of both the upper levels of Northampton society and its soft underbelly.
The aura of nostalgia for a small New England town's way of life at the close of the 20th century becomes reality as Tommy takes a new job, and gets set to move away from the Northhampton he knows and loves.
All in all an appealing book that kept me interested until the last page.
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on May 3, 2004
I really loved this book. It is introversion and extroversion at its height. The comparison of people in just this one town is incredible, but even more so the fact that the reader walks away wanting to know what happened to each and every character. I literally was going to take a road trip to Northampton to meet some of the main characters of this novel, but I didn't want to creep them out. At points the story line is a little slow, but usually this is because Kidder is focusing on one character and the reader just wants to know what is happening with his or her favorite character. I would recommend this book to anyone that has ever visited, lived, or wants to live in a town in New England.
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on January 23, 2004
I got such a kick out of this book! Unfortunately, I have a feeling it's probably because I'm from Northampton, having grown up there around the same time as Tom O'Connor. For me, at least, it captures perfectly what it was to grow up in Northampton in the '70's. I haven't lived in Northampton in years, but visit family there quite frequently and believe that Kidder also captures how Northampton has changed over the years. For me, reading Home Town is like going back in time and, literally, going home.
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on November 28, 2009
Tracy Kidder fills out the backround of Northampton for someone like me who has visited. We may be a young country, but this is a 400-yr-old town in our country and the town and the elite institution of Smith College are inextricably interwoven in undeniable and still yet undiscovered ways.
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