There Are Places They Remember

When you see the names of the authors Stephen King, Charles Dickens, Anne Tyler, and L.M. Montgomery, what places in their novels come to mind? Maine, London, Baltimore, and Canada’s Prince Edward Island.

When you see the name of the author Lee Child, what place in his novels comes to mind? Um…well…uh…is there a town called Mayhem?

Yes, some authors write fiction that’s often set in the same locale, while other authors send their characters all over the map. In the latter case, Lee Child’s justice-dispensing former military cop Jack Reacher has drifted to California, Georgia, Florida, Indiana, London (where he didn’t meet Charles Dickens), Maine (where he could’ve met Stephen King), Nebraska, New York City, South Dakota, Virginia, Washington, DC, and elsewhere.

And of course many authors are in between when it comes to geography — having a go-to locale for a number of their books, but mixing things up in other works. An example of that would be John Steinbeck, whose best-known novels unfold in California but who also wrote fiction set on Long Island, NY (The Winter of Our Discontent), in an unnamed European country under Nazi occupation (The Moon Is Down), etc. There’s also Mark Twain, who’s best known for his books set in and near the Mississippi River, but who also wrote novels such as Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc (which takes place in France) and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (duh — the Constitution State and England). Twain’s site-jumping is not surprising given how much of a world traveler he was.

Advantages for often keeping characters in one state, city, or town? An author has a rock-solid knowledge of that particular locale — where she or he might have grown up and perhaps still lives — and thus can showcase the locale in a totally authentic way. Also, writers who focus on one place don’t have to spend as much time researching and traveling for their next novel, leaving more time for crafting the actual prose. And many a reader likes the comfort level of always knowing where characters are living their fictional lives.

But putting protagonists in various locales can keep things fresh — and draw in new readers interested in seeing (among other things) how accurately their neck of the woods is depicted.

As noted before, there are various lines on the geographical continuum for where authors situate their books. For instance, Henry James changed his locales but had favorites he returned to. So you’ll see his characters more than once in New York City, Paris, London, etc., but not in as many places as Lee Child sends Jack Reacher. (Why Henry James didn’t create a justice-dispensing former military cop is for psychologists to mull over… 🙂 )

And it’s exciting, surprising, and intriguing when an author we mostly associate with one locale suddenly puts a novel in a different place — as when Dickens sent Martin Chuzzlewit‘s title character to America, the usually Scotland-focused Sir Walter Scott chose France for Quentin Durward, the usually U.S.-centered Willa Cather wrote the Quebec City-based Shadows on the Rock, the usually New England-centered Nathaniel Hawthorne picked Rome for The Marble Faun, the usually ship-at-sea-chronicling Herman Melville kept Pierre on land in New York State and New York City, and the often-NYC-focused Edith Wharton put Ethan Frome in rural Massachusetts.

Where do your favorite authors set their books? Do they mostly focus on one locale, or put their characters in many places, or fall somewhere in between?

(The box for submitting comments is below already-posted comments, but your new comment will appear at the top of the comments area — unless you’re replying to someone else.)



I’m writing a literature-related book, but still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as Ann Landers and “Dear Abby,” and other notables such as Hillary Clinton, Coretta Scott King, Walter Cronkite, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times. You can email me at dastor@earthlink.net to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by people such as “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson.

74 thoughts on “There Are Places They Remember

  1. Did you mention Lee Child Dave ? Currently I’m on his latest ” Make Me” , received the borrowed book the day it was published.
    Started when Reacher on a train suddenly decided to getting off it to a town which have gotton his attention for it`s mysterious name Mother`s Rest.

    My time is limited three weeks not long enough for me ( when do I sit down to read) but need to return it by that time unless I want to build up the fines.

    One thing I can say it is a more gentler Jack Reacher getting more fashion conscious, he had come to like Chang`s lace-up shoes but I am barely a little more than half of the 400 page book which is a page turner from page one.

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    • Thanks, bebe! Very glad you’re enjoying the latest Lee Child novel. I can’t wait to read it! Hope you can finish it on time, or renew it.

      Interesting that Jack Reacher is changing a bit. Part of me hates to see him become a littler gentler and a little more fashion-conscious, yet it’s nice in a way that he’s evolving a bit after 20 books. I wonder if the series will end with Reacher actually settling down somewhere?

      “Page-Turner” is Lee Child’s middle name! 🙂

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      • Hope not Dave !
        I can`t renew the book, there are hundreds on the waiting list, in the meantime Go Set a Watchman is waiting for me to be picked up, I am not sure I`ll have time for it. because I set aside David Baldacci Memory Man to read Lee Child`s.

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        • Oh, that makes sense, bebe. I guess books with long waiting lists shouldn’t be available for renewal.

          Wow — you made it to the top of the “Go Set a Watchman” waiting list! Amazed that happened so soon, whether you read it or not.

          Yes, Jack Reacher settling down just wouldn’t seem right.

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          • That tells you something about the book…GSAW. But Dave we are so saturated with Trump`s bigotry I was thinking I may not want to spend time reading about a fictional bigot whom we loved all these years.

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            • Great points, bebe!

              I wonder if some people took their names off the waiting list, or didn’t bother to get the book when they reached the top of the waiting list, because of the very mixed reviews “GSAW” received.

              And, as hard as it to believe, the “GSAW” version of Atticus Finch unfortunately DOES share a trait or two with the vile Donald Trump. Who woulda thunk it? 😦

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                • You make a good point, Brian. I’m going by excerpts I’ve read and some pieces written about “GSAW,” but one must read the whole thing (as you did) to see the context. And while the “new” Atticus Finch does seemingly have some racist views, Trump’s racism — and other beliefs — are of course a lot worse.

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                  • In ‘GSAW’ Atticus expresses a viewpoint that is definitely racist but is more accurately described as a viewpoint of ‘gradualism’ i.e. the Negroes are still in their infancy as a people; they’re not ready to seize the reins of power, etc. an attitude which was, unfortunatly, still held by Wm. F. Buckley in 1965 (I watched a debate on YouTube from Cambridge University from that year between James Baldwin and Buckley; I am currently reading Baldwin’s first novel, ‘Go Tell it on the Mountain’). Atticus is far more benevolent than either Buckley or Trump and does his job in ‘TKAM’ because he feels that a black man deserves equal treatment under the law and, if he is clearly innocent, as Tom Robinson certainly was, he deserves a fair trial. I think the Atticus of ‘GSAW’ would still defend Tom Robinson if he weren’t retired and the situation presented itself. Of course we see that attitude as repellent and it certainly is although I believe that even if the sainted Abraham Lincoln were whisked out of 1865 to 1965, he would hold views pretty much identical to Atticus’. It was an attitude that was unfortunately still prevalent in the late 1950’s and 60’s. Trump, in addition to holding blatantly racist views, is boorish, selfish, rude, duplicitous and evades personal responsibility for any of his choices. I can’t imagine Trump ever admitting that he made a mistake. Atticus, even in ‘GSAW’, has more integrity in his little finger than Trump could ever contemplate having.

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                  • Incidentally I also did request for the large print version simply for the availability and now both are there for me to pick up. My take on the book is also based on excerpts and reviews .
                    My point was based on that and do I have time for it even though I know Atticus in that book is fictional and Donald Trump is so real for today’s politics. The book being the first draft.
                    Choosing a book to read for me has to be for both the topic and the writing style.

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                    • Actually, my theory is that it is not a first draft but definitely not a final draft. Parts of it are very well written and, as has been pointed out before, there are passages about Maycomb that are word for word identical to ‘TKAM’. Presumably ‘TKAM’ lifted those passages from this earlier work. My theory, of course, totally unsubtantiated or proven, pure speculation is that Harper went back to this earlier draft after the mammoth success of ‘TKAM’ book and movie and revised it a bit. These characters are presented as though we’re familiar with them and we are because we have the experience of ‘TKAM’ in our minds and I contend that she did as well when she touched it up. For whatever reason though I think she abandoned it and so it has rough edges throughout it that she, plus a good editor, could have smoothed over if it had ever been submitted for publication back in the 60’s. Scout’s disillusion with Atticus doesn’t make much sense unless we know what she has lost and we do because we’ve read ‘TKAM’. So I think it’s too polished to be a first draft but not polished enough to be a final one.

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                    • bobess48…appreciate your input in this matter more so because you are the only one I am famalier with have read the book. I will certainly make an effort to read the book. If I do I`ll definitely let Dave and you know.

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                    • Thanks, bobess48 and bebe, for the conversation and interesting thoughts!

                      While, again, I haven’t read “Go Set a Watchman,” gradualism is certainly racist in its way — as you note, bobess48. Paternalistically thinking that African-Americans aren’t quite ready for full human rights but might be in the future. Heck, if the white power structure at the time allowed black citizens a good education, etc., they’d be ready for full human rights. So it’s kind of circular logic, a self-fulfilling prophecy, or whatever the correct term is. 🙂

                      I’ve watched that Baldwin-Buckley debate on YouTube, and it’s riveting. I thought Baldwin blew Buckley out of the water. And “Go Tell It On the Mountain” is a terrific (semi-autobiographical) novel.

                      Your theory, bobess48, that “GSAW” was revised back in the 1960s with the intent of turning it from a “To Kill a Mockingbird” draft to a “TKAM” sequel — and then abandoned — makes a lot of sense!

                      And, yes, Abraham Lincoln probably was partly racist if looked at in a 20th-century context. And Donald Trump being the way he is in 2015 as a New York City resident, as opposed to Atticus Finch being the way he was in the 1950s in the Deep South, is telling. The onerous Trump doesn’t have the excuse of it being “a certain time and place.” And, bebe, a real Trump can indeed inflict more harm than any fictional character, such as Atticus.

                      bebe, if you do read “GSAW,” I’d love to hear your thoughts about it! It’s not on my soon-to-read list, but if I stumble across it at my local library at some point this year or next year, I might take it out. 🙂

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                    • Excellent thought provoking post Dave..tomorrow I will borrow one then I would have 3 weeks time then it goes back to the next person waiting if there is any. Now back to Lee Child and I`ll let you know after I finish that for sure.

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                • All right after almost a month BB and Dave…I am reading the book , have another 80 some pages left. I read a few comments on goodreads..and I wonder if the commentators have actually read the book.

                  For the first draft as I hear I am liking Lee`s style it is a well written book , here Harper Lee is talking though Scout…and I am amazed by the open mindedness of her.

                  Oh yes, I had the initial shock…and there is more awaiting in the final chapters I urge Dave get the book and then we could discuss.

                  I`ll write more after I finish.

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                  • Thanks, bebe, for your thoughts on “Go Set a Watchman”! Sounds like you like it more than you expected. Scout was a great character in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and it’s nice to hear that she’s appealing in “GSAW” as well. And I assume the shock you felt is at least partly from seeing Atticus Finch depicted as not as saintly as he was in “TKAM”?

                    I’ll see if “GSAW” ends up appearing on a shelf in my local library rather than constantly borrowed. 🙂

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                    • Hi Dave…I simply don’t believe itis a first draft, she must have gone back and revised it more than once. So far..scout goes back to her early years to remisence, east to picture Jem, and her ..I am writing in the back page because I have yet to finish, I am actual at enjoying the narration fo Ms, Lee. I wonder in her early years if she has anticipated such outcome and revised to book a few times.

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                    • My theory is that it was a first draft, the publishers told her it was promising but recommended that she expand the childhood sequences. She went back and expanded it into ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, which did get extensive work and became the focused classic we know. It was a huge success and the successful film expanded the fame. She was asked repeatedly in the wake of its blockbuster popularity what was next. For a few years she said she was working on another novel. She finally stopped saying anything by the late 60’s. I suspect that in the first half of the decade she probably pulled out the ‘GSAW’ manuscript, tinkered with it and retrofitted, to an extent, based on the existence of ‘TKAM’. So I believe that much of it was written with the previous knowledge of ‘TKAM’. Of course, 50 years later, we’re all reading ‘GSAW’ with the knowledge of it in our heads. I contend that it’s in the unique category of being both first and second novel.

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                    • Agreed…and I have enjoyed the humorous thinking process of Scout / Lee…about her aunt and so forth. I am sure I will finish it in a day or two..and then return the book, fine is building up and 200 more are on the waiting list. Now I am sure Dave will read it and then we could have a discussion on it. I will borrow it again just to re-read here and there.

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                    • Money does indeed speak, bebe. And I won’t be surprised if there’s a movie — if not a theatrical one, then a TV one or cable TV one. Who would play an older Atticus? Hmm…maybe Sam Waterston? And Brian, your statement that “GSAW” is “in the unique category of being both first and second novel” is a terrific statement!

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                    • Yes, I think Sam Waterson would probably be a decent Atticus. If Hal Holbrook was about 15 years younger he could do it very well (I think he’s close to 90 if not already there). There will probably be a film within the next couple of years. The movie people won’t be able to resist.

                      This is interesting timing as just this afternoon, before I read Bebe’s comment my co-worker and I led a book discussion with a group of local ladies, one of whom he knows and he asked me to join him. We’re talking about 10-12 fairly proper Southern ladies. They all seemed to like the book fairly well and at least one or two of them were extremely enthusiastic in their appreciation. One thing they felt was so spot on was Harper Lee’s depiction of that society at that point in time, particularly in the scene of the coffee that Jean Lousie’s Aunt Alexandria coerces her into attending, which included snippets of dialogue, like a droning inane machine churning out cliche’d platitudes. These people have grown up down here in Alabama so they can speak to the authenticity probably better than most of you Northerners. He and I also participated in a panel discussion at the end of August and none of the people that attended felt the sense of apprehension about reading or, having read it, just felt it was a piece of trash or anything close to it. Does this indicate that native Southerners are more receptive to this other creation dealing with some of their favorite characters? I don’t know, but none of them had the panicked reaction I’ve detected elsewhere as if they were about to handle burning hot coals. Just a totally random, totally unscientific observation from me, nothing more and nothing less. Incidentally, all of the ladies at the discussion this afternoon felt that it stood up very well on its own, independent of ‘TKAM’.

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                    • You’re right, Brian — a 15-year-younger Hal Holbrook would have made a good Atticus as well. And very interesting to hear about the book discussion you co-led that was attended by various Alabama women, and very interesting to read your comment in general.

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  2. I think someone mentioned Faulkner but he’s the first writer I always think of when discussing location in a writer’s work. His Yoknapatawpha County and its county seat Jefferson are, of course, thinly veiled depictions of Oxford and its surrounding county, Lafayette. He famously remarked that he figured his own little postage stamp of soil had ample subject matter for him to write about. Although he wrote a few novels set in other locations they are not as convicing as when he’s on home turf. Before Faulkner, there was Thomas Hardy and his Wessex County, where most of his novels are set. Again, it’s a thinly disguised depiction of the area in which he grew up. Faulkner drew up his own map of Yoknapatawpha and one is often printed in Hardy’s novels although I don’t know if he actually drew it or designed it himself (probably not; it always looks more professional than Faulkner’s ‘home-made’ map with his distinctive lilttle scribbles). Another author that, even though he was an expatriate, wrote about his home territory, was James Joyce. He claimed that he could write more believably about Dublin while he was in Paris than he ever could while he was actually living in Dublin.

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    • Thanks for mentioning Faulkner, Brian! He was correct that — in many ways — one small place can offer enough material for all kinds of stories and all kinds of people. A “little postage stamp of soil” is specific yet universal, because human emotions and actions have strong similarities in any locale. Or in any time period, which is one reason why much older novels still “speak” to us.

      Great references to Thomas Hardy and James Joyce, too! And interesting that some authors need to get some physical and psychic distance to write best about a place.

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      • “Little postage stamp” reminds me of another tale about Faulkner, who was employed as a postal clerk for a time in Oxford MS. He played favorites outrageously, the unfavored having to root for their mail in a large circular receptacle by the counter: a trash can.

        When he quit this job, he was asked why and replied: “I was tired at being sat the beck and call of every son of a bitch with two cents for a stamp.”

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  3. Hi Dave … “In My Life” is one of my all-time favorite songs; I like the way you used it in the title 🙂

    Okay, first of all, I am now effectively tantalized by all the Jack Reacher references, and I’m going to have to give Lee Child a shot somewhere down the line, no doubt about it. I’m developing a burning curiosity about what I’m missing!

    In terms of locales, Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone With The Wind” comes immediately to mind. Her descriptions of the Old South, in general, and specifically Atlanta before, during, and after the Civil War were indelibly etched on my mind’s eye long before I finally saw the movie.

    Have a great week, Dave!

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    • Thank you, Pat! “In My Life” is a gorgeous song.

      When you do read a Jack Reacher novel, please let me/us know what you think! I just took out another one yesterday, which will be my lucky 13th. 🙂 I am SO hooked on that series; every fourth or fifth book I’ve read during the past year has been a Lee Child one.

      Speaking of that library trip, Philip Roth’s “Goodbye, Columbus” was finally on the shelves there. (You had recommended it, along with another commenter, J.J. McGrath.) Can’t wait to read it!

      Good one — “Gone With the Wind” has a VERY evocative (and often uncomfortable) sense of place, and time.

      Have a great week, too!

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  4. There are quite a few female private investigators that I’ve read through the years, such as those by Sue Grafton, Marcia Muller, Sara Paretsky, and Linda Barnes. There are those male authors such as Ross MacDonald, John McDonald and Robert Spencer, all of whom are also quite prolific and are associated with specific cities, and these are only Americans, let alone British, European and other authors across the world. I’ve read way too many detective, police and mystery novels!

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    • Very good point, Kat Lib. Many detectives do their work in one city or town or region, and some local “atmosphere” provided by the authors nicely adds to the story.

      You’ve also read many novels that are not detective, police, or mystery ones! Besides, detective, police, or mystery novels can be great — and sometimes great literature!

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      • On another topic, Kat Lib, I just started “The Vendetta Defense” after you recommended Lisa Scottoline. I’m one chapter in and totally hooked! (And now know a lot more about pigeons. 🙂 )

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      • Dave, I was supposed to mention the places these private investigators were from so here goes: Grafton (Santa Barbara); Muller (San Francisco); Paretsky (Chicago); Barnes (Boston); MacDonald (Southern California); McDonald (Southern Florida); and I goofed up by saying Robert Spencer — it was Robert B. Parker who wrote the Spencer novels (also Boston).

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  5. Yoknapatawpha County, a fictional area modeled on Lafayette County in MS, was setting for several of William Faulkner’s novels. Though the U of MS is located in the model, the fictional county has no such elitist institution to distract readers from its inbred intractability.

    Los Angeles is home to Philip Marlowe, and setting for most of the novels in which he is featured.

    San Francisco was the home base for Hammett’s The Continental Op.

    Swedish detective Kurt Wallander operates out of Ystad, Sweden, a town which is also used for filming the various Wallander series. Once home to a military base, after closing, the producers bought the base’s major building— for use as Wallander’s police station!

    New Orleans is the home of Dave Robicheaux, James Lee Burke’s detective.

    The Subterraneans, a Jack Kerouac novel based on the doings of druggies and other marginals, was based on Kerouac’s time among such folk in San Francisco– but due to fears that the book might be read by police as a guide to the drug demi-monde of that city, he changed the setting to NYC. So here’s an example of a mis-association of place.

    The authors each spent much formative time in the places in which they set their fiction, even if, as in the case of Faulker, he changed the name of the place, or in the case of Kerouac, he changed the place.

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    • GREAT examples of some authors’ go-to places, jhNY! Along with that fascinating Jack Kerouac mis-association you mention. The latter reminds me of how some writers disguise things in other ways, as when the Jim Burden character in “My Antonia” is clearly a switched-gender version of (the presumably gay) author Willa Cather.

      William Faulkner’s frequent focus on that Mississippi county is legendary, as they say.

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      • “William Faulkner’s frequent focus on that Mississippi county is legendary, as they say.”

        Indeed. Don’t know when or where I ran across it, but I happened on somebody’s story of working with the man in Hollywood, where he, like Fitzgerald and Cain, toiled as a screen writer. There was a car pool among writers, and one day, when the car arrived to pick up Faulker, he was heading down his driveway in his own car, horse trailer attached. Seems Faulkner owned a mare, which was heavy with foal. When asked where he was going, Faulker replied, more or less, “I’ll be damned if any mare of mine will give birth in a place like this.” And with that, he drove away to MS.

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        • Wow — what a story, jhNY! I guess a Mississippi set on a Hollywood back lot wouldn’t have done the trick. 🙂

          Top-notch authors definitely had mixed feelings writing for the movies, despite the big bucks…

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  6. As always great topic Dave and a hint of the Beatles in the essay title to boot. Before I even finished hearing In My Life play thru my brain William Kennedy and his so called Albany Cycle appeared. Obviously the location will be Albany NY the books in no chronological order range from just before the Civil War until the 1970s. I honestly believe Mr. Kennedy to be in the first rank of post war writers along with Roth , Updike and Saul Bellows who was quite the fan , i wonder if he doesn’t get the respect he deserves due to being tied to an odd or obscure location? The best known of the novels is Ironweed due to the excellent film treatment starring Jack Nickelson and Meryl Streep. It is a great introduction to his work and to the Phelan family the generations of whom figure through out the series. Any of the books can be read with profit as a stand alone though I’d recommend one of the earlier ones to start Legs which features the tale gangster Legs Diamond ( all the novels mix fictional & historical characters to great effect in greater and lessor degree) or one of my favorites Billy Phelan’s Greatest Game . Possibly the deepest and best at summing up the stories and concerns would be the later Very Old Bones. a short passage below from Billy Phelan might give one a better idea of Mr. Kennedy’s attributes than I.
    *******************************************************
    Billy’s native arrogance might well have been a gift of miffed genes, than come to splendid definition through the tests to which a street like Broadway puts a young man on the make: tests designed to refine a breed, enforce a code,exclude a simps and gumps,and deliver into this city’s life a man a man worthy of functioning in this age of nocturnal supremacy. Men like Billy Phelan, forged in the brass of Broadway,send,in the time of their splendor, telegraphic statements of mission, I, you bums, am a winner. And that message, however devoid of Christ-like other-cheekery , dooms the faint hearted Scotty’s of the night, who must sludge along, never knowing how it feels to spill over with the small change of sassiness, how it feels to leave the spillover on the floor , more where that came from Pal, leave it for the sweeper..
    *************************************************************
    It’s as if a great early Tom Waits song were fleshed out into full life and than some.

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    • Thanks for the kind words, Donny — and for noticing the Beatles reference in the title!

      Great William Kennedy mention in terms of locale! I read “Ironweed” and saw the movie — both excellent, as you say. You’re right about Kennedy not getting as much respect as he deserves. Sort of a latter-day Willa Cather and Sinclair Lewis in that…respect. Terrific Kennedy passage you quoted, and I loved your Tom Waits comparison.

      By the way, I’m about three-quarters through “Felicia’s Journey,” which you recommended. (Thank you!) Absorbing and WONDERFULLY written, but the male co-protagonist is turning my stomach a bit. I’m going to try to figure out a way to mention that William Trevor novel in my next column.

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        • Yes, Mr. Hilditch is not entirely a cardboard-cutout villain — one has a bit of sympathy for him, and he’s obviously got some “issues” that he perhaps can’t entirely control. My final opinion of him will of course be determined by what he does or doesn’t do in the rest of the book!

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      • When I went through my major depressive episode 25 years ago, I was living with my sister and her family. One day she brought a few videos home, and one was “Ironweed.” It didn’t take me long to tell her that this movie was making me more depressed than I was already was. It would be interesting to see if it would affect me so much as it did back then, but I must admit I’m not willing to try.

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    • I’ve read Ironweed and Legs, and enjoyed them. They’re set back when a writing style like Kennedy’s would have seemed contemporary, rather than nostalgic in itself. The style and the settings and the time are all a bit backwards-looking– not that I mind, even an eensy bit. But that might be why Kennedy does not enjoy a higher place on the Lit Writer’s Ladder– he reminds of a painter who perfected his own contribution to Cubism– in 1973. In other words, he’s part of a literary conversation that’s one-sided: all his models are dead, and he’s developed a voice that would fit in perfectly with writers he obviously admired, most, if not all of whom, were writing during the time period in which he sets his Albany Cycle.

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      • I get would you’re saying but not sure I find the analogy all that useful. A painter doing Cubist work after say 1925 would be both anachronistic and quite limited however well executed his paintings. The fact that William Kennedy is to some extent engaged in a conversation with the past ,which in later volumes he brings to the present day ,seems to me a little less out of date or place. It’s his characters and their engagements or effect on each other , the community at large and a slice of history that he’s concerned with which strikes me as a timeless pursuits of a novelist. I don’t think he is overly concerned with modern literary innovation or metafictional, fashionable tricks and can’t see the point of judging him in those lights.

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        • His concerns are his own, and the concerns of those literary gatekeepers who don’t give him “the respect he deserves” are likewise. I was opining as to why it is this “respect” has eluded him– and a big part of the why just might be his devotion to trad forms, diction, settings and aesthetics. Which is not to say he is not good at what he does– but he’s not really innovative, and among critics who seek out novelty in novels, that might have cost him.

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  7. James Herriot was a writer and veterinarian. He was born in Scotland,but lived and practiced in the north of England rural area called Yorkshire Dales where his beautiful stories about the people and their animals,many of whom were farmers. I so enjoyed the PBS series All Creatures Great And Small when I was young. I noticed they are being re televised and think its wonderful more people will watch the series then perhaps want to read his books.

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    • Thanks, Michele! I haven’t read James Herriot, but have heard a lot about his books. Sounds like there was a real sense of place in them. I would love to read Herriot one of these days — and/or watch the PBS series!

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    • Michele, I’ve read the James Herriot books many times (at least 3 times each),and I find them as funny every time as I did as the first time. Even just thinking about some of them makes me giggle, although it’s been years since I last read the whole series.

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  8. John Sandford (John Camp) writes about Minnesota as few others can. The location of his mystery novels shift from the Twin Cities to the small towns, from the pine bogs of North to the prairies of the west and hardwood valleys of the Southeast.

    Camp knows the state and its people well, he won a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the farm crisis in 80’s.

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    • That author sounds great, Almost Iowa, and it’s impressive that he can skillfully convey life in both “the big city” (well, two big cities 🙂 ) and small towns.

      And he’s another example of how journalists can become excellent novelists. Ernest Hemingway, Geraldine Brooks, and many others all had stints at newspapers.

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  9. There are so many places in my head, Dave, and they don’t have to do with how good a series is. One that I’ve enjoyed tremendously is the Lisa Scottoline legal series, mostly because she mentions places around Philadelphia that I am very familiar with.

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    • Lisa Scottoline’s “The Vendetta Defense,” which I took out of the library last month, is the next book I’m going to read. Can’t wait to try that author you recommended, and to see the Philadelphia setting! (I’ve been to Philly about a half dozen times.)

      First I have to finish William Trevor’s “Felicia’s Journey,” which commenter Donny Backes Jr. had recommended. It’s exquisitely written, but the sleazy male co-protagonist is seriously creeping me out. 😦

      And, yes, settings can be memorable even when the novel isn’t!

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  10. Hi Dave, one of my favorite writers is Alexander McCall Smith, mostly because his novels are lighthearted but some can still make you think about serious issues. He is probably best known for his “No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” series that is set in Botswana, as well as two series set in Edinburgh (44 Scotland Street and the Sunday Philosophy Club). He has lived in both Botswana and Edinburgh, and I find that his books are so evocative of both places. There are also some novels set in London, eg “Corduroy Mansions,” and some standalone novels and many children’s books. While not great literature, they make me feel better about humankind. I must admit that I’ve fallen behind in all of his series due to my reading drought, but I will catch up at some point.

    Liked by 1 person

    • What struck me as somewhat odd, is that for the last few days, I’ve had the song “In My Life” running through my head and there you go using the first line as the title for this blog!

      Liked by 1 person

      • That’s a nice coincidence, Kat Lib, and I’m happy you caught the headline’s Beatles-song reference! A beautiful song. One of the ones played at my wedding to my first wife — a marriage that ended up being not good. But I don’t blame John, Paul, George, and Ringo for that. 🙂

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    • Thanks, Kat Lib, for your wonderfully descriptive comment about Alexander McCall Smith’s books! His work has been on my to-read list for a while (another friend of mine is also a big fan). Feeling better about humankind is a nice perk after reading certain novels. (Of course, there are other novels — some great — that do NOT make one feel that way!)

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      • I think one of the reasons I love these series so much is that there may be “mysteries,” but they are all so benign, there’s no bad language, nor violence, blood and gore. Not that I’m averse to any of the above, but it’s nice to get away from all that sometimes. I love Precious Ramotswe talking about “bush tea,” as well as Isabel Dalhousie talking about “philosophical ideas” while drinking tea and scones.

        Liked by 1 person

  11. I think I’ve mentioned a series of novels by Lilian Jackson Braun – “The Cat Who ……..” series. She wrote 29 novels that were all set in fictional Moose County in the great north woods. The novels all have the same main characters – the journalist known as James Mackintosh Qwilleran and his two cats Koko and Yum-Yum. They solve mysteries together. I really think you would enjoy them as light-hearted reading, especially with your affinity for cats.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I remember you mentioning that series, lulabelle! It does sound like fun — including the character names and the name of that constant Moose County locale.

      Your description of mystery-solving cooperation between a person and animals reminds me of Rita Mae Brown’s mysteries, which are also (partly) lighthearted.

      Thanks for the engaging comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Dave, I can’t help but think of Arther Conan Doyle who based a majority of the Sherlock stories in London. He really did a fine job creating the London that Sherlock needed. Agatha Christie also used consistent locations for her detectives, Poirot, was based in London most of the time, and Miss Marple spent time in the fictitious St. Mary Mead. Of course there is James Fenimore Cooper who based the Leather Stockings stories in the Lake Champlain region. Will Shakespeare had a love of Italy even though he lived in England.

    I always felt when Hawthorne wrote New England he write better than other locations, something about home turf I suppose.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Several great examples, GL, of authors often focusing on one place. Thanks!

      Sherlock Holmes and London were indelibly linked! And to address another author/series you mentioned, it was kind of a shock when James Fenimore Cooper had his Natty Bumppo character go west in his old age after all his time in the New York State woods.

      And, yes, when Nathaniel Hawthorne strayed from New England in his fiction, one could tell he was struggling a bit with that.

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