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The Locals: A Novel Hardcover – August 8, 2017
This month's Book With Buzz: "Little Fires Everywhere" by Celeste Ng
From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You, a riveting novel that traces the intertwined fates of the picture - perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives. See more
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An Amazon Best Book of August 2017: Back in 2012, Jonathan Dee wrote, “Only bad literature proselytizes…Great literature sees, without advocacy and without pity.” His new novel, The Locals, is indeed great, partly because it fulfills the requirements of that dictum. Dee doesn’t proselytize, but does “see” very clearly the intersecting lives of the residents of Howland, a fictional town in the Berkshires. After 9/11, a wealthy New York financier moves in, and in short order becomes the town’s First Selectman, eschewing a salary, repealing taxes, and behaving, in both popular and unpopular ways, like the prince of a blue-collar fiefdom. Dee, an extraordinary mimic, inhabits the quirky voice of one character, and then another. Those shifts of perspective give a polyphonic, democratic feel to this novel. Social isolation, real-estate speculation and the promise of love: it’s America in a microcosm, but it’s to Dee’s credit that his readers are never entirely sure how he thinks any of us could do better. --Sarah Harrison Smith, Amazon Book Review
“After 9/11, New York hedge fund billionaire Philip Hadi retreats to his summer home in the Berkshires. In thrall to his new town, he runs for office to keep it sleepy, sweet and free from tax hikes. Is he benevolent, arrogant or both? No one gets off the moral hook in this propulsive, brilliantly observed study.”—People (Book of the Week)
“Thoughtful . . . [Jonathan Dee’s] prescient sensitivity has never been more unnerving. . . . Amid the heat of today’s vicious political climate, The Locals is a smoke alarm. Listen up.”—Ron Charles, The Washington Post
“Captivating . . . [Dee’s] knowing gaze and elegant writing work well throughout The Locals, which is infused with a sense of desperation and dread. His characters are vivid, and the emotions raw.”—USA Today
“Addictive reading . . . [Dee] captures the deeply ingrained resentment and disillusion that seem to define the present moment. . . . Like the novels of Jonathan Franzen, The Locals confidently sutures broad social travails with individual destinies.”—The Wall Street Journal
“The Locals is a steady, intelligent probing of family ties and sibling rivalry and themes that illuminate how we live now—inequality and status envy, individualism and community, the high life and the good life.”—Newsday
“The residents of a small town in the Berkshires have their world overturned by a billionaire in their midst. . . . [The Locals] plays both as political allegory and kaleidoscopic character study. An absorbing panorama of small-town life and a study of democracy in miniature.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Good old social novels are hard to come by these days, great ones harder still. Leave it to [Jonathan] Dee to fill the void with a book that’s not only great but so frighteningly timely that the reader will be forced to wonder how he managed to compose it before the last election cycle.”—Booklist (starred review)
“Engrossing . . . His blue-collar characters, each of them pursuing the American Dream, are vividly developed, and his insights into how they think about the government (ineffective and corrupt) and their rights as citizens (ignored, trampled) are timely. . . . [Dee] handles the plot with admirable skill, finding empathy for his bewildered characters. He creates tension as a reckoning day arrives, and strikes the perfect ending note.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“The Locals is a bold, vital, and view-expanding novel that thrills technically and emotionally. Jonathan Dee, big-hearted and masterly, summons up a small American town at precisely the right moment in our history, using his signature gifts (fairness, poetic precision in the language, affection for all) to cast light over a dark time—to suggest the root cause of our political problems, but also a way forward.”—George Saunders, New York Times bestselling author of Lincoln in the Bardo
“In this moving study of how the housing bubble’s burst sets a small town’s citizens against each other, Jonathan Dee tells a must-read story for our age. Class struggle, tyranny, America’s disillusionment after 9/11—The Locals creates a delicately drawn world impossible to forget.”—Mary Karr, New York Times bestselling author of The Liar’s Club and Lit
“There could not be a more timely novel than The Locals. It examines the American self and American selfishness from 9/11 until today. Jonathan Dee has given us a master class in empathy and compassion, a vital book.”—Nathan Hill, author of The Nix
“Blackly comic, effortlessly authoritative, The Locals is almost criminal in its perceptiveness about the screwed state of the American union. Jonathan Dee is a modern American master.”—Joseph O’Neill, author of Netherland and The Dog
Top customer reviews
"The Locals" is a picture of a time, a place, and the people who inhabit both. Set in the Massachusetts Berkshires - think Route 7 as it works it's way from Connecticut to Vermont. The town of Howland, MA was little different than the other small towns in the area. The "locals" who lived there made their way year round, sometimes servicing those wealthy "second home-rs" from New York City and Boston. The story begins on 9/11 when local builder Mark Firth is in New York City for a meeting with a lawyer about some money he'd lost in a scam. Jonathan Dee does an excellent job reminding the reader about those days right after the attacks, when Americans everywhere went out of their way to be nice to others. Mark returns to Howland without the settlement but is asked soon after to fix up the house of New Yorker Philip Hadi, a wealthy money-man who was resettling his family to Howland from New York. And it is Philip Hadi, who soon turns the lives of Howland residents upside down.
Who was Philip Hadi and what were his intentions in first settling in Howland and then by taking over the town? Even after finishing the book, I can't tell if he was a good guy...or a bad guy. He was a complicated guy in a town where most guys seemed simple, but were actually not. Jonathan Dee describes Hadi in terms which go together with the times - a post 9/11 world where the country is at war and certain civil liberties are curtailed as well.
Dee's book has many characters and not a single one is a caricature. He breathes life into everyone and I had no trouble keeping track of everyone. The book's stretch reminded me of "The Corrections", a book whose aim I admired but didn't particularly like. I thought there were too many loose ends and characters in "The Corrections" and could not quite understand all the praise. Anyway, Jonathan Dee's book is not long - 375 pages - but everything is pulled together. We don't know what happened to many characters but the book feels complete. Again, Dee is telling a story of a time and a place, and he tells it beautifully.
Mark, a talented restorer of houses, was emptied out financially in an investment scam he fell for, which brought him to NYC to an attorney there heading up a class action suit. He arrived on 9/10/01, and was caught in the fear and fervor of the 9/11 tragedy. Once home, he and his wife had taken on a fresh perspective to their stale marriage, and, although Mark’s appointment with the lawyer was suspended until further notice, he vows to make a change for the better.
Enter Philip Hadi, a NYC billionaire investment tycoon, seemingly unassuming but dripping with the understated power that comes with the confidence of his position—“a guy who had everything and from whom nothing could be taken away.” Hadi and his wife, who spend holidays in Howland (the house next to Mark’s), have now taken up residence there, due to the fear of staying in NYC. He hires Mark to do security on his house, and the dazzle of wealth attracts Mark, who feels less than equal to Hadi.
Dee is seamless at segueing from one character to another, sometimes from one paragraph to the next—from Mark, to his wife, Karen, his daughter, Haley, Mark’s siblings, and other locals in the town. When Hadi takes over the job as First Selectman and saves the town from financial ruin via charitable donations, revenue deficit replenishment, and even paying some of the salaries of government employees, Mark’s cynical brother, Gerry, starts an angry blog, trying to provoke others into anti-Hadi sentiment.
The great divide is seen in all its glory—or ingloriousness. Is Hadi good or bad, corrupt or incorruptible? As politics colors the individuals in the story, the reader is taken on this satirical yet poignant journey between 9/11 and the economic bubble burst. Dee is a terse and succinct, controlling his story through a sinewy narrative. I was always ready for the other shoe to drop, so tense was the feeling in my gut as I continued to turn the pages.
“…whenever something major happens it’s like everybody wants to insist on their little piece of suffering…they were just overdoing it, I’m sorry. Get over yourselves. You weren’t there, it didn’t happen to you. Plus you know anything built that high is going to come down sooner or later, one way or another.” Mocking and twisted at times, but its irreverence is cruelly accurate. A must read for the Millennial generation—and all who came before.