Fifty Shades of States

I’d like to state that some novels capture a state — the feel, the ambiance, the streets, etc.

That obvious fact occurred to me last week as I read Tom MacDonald’s The Charlestown Connection, a mystery set in Massachusetts — mostly Boston’s Charlestown section (pictured above). The novel has interesting characters, but just as interesting is its you-are-there descriptions of various places in Beantown.

Many other novels, of course, do the same with other states in the U.S. I won’t give examples from all 50 states, but will mention one or more books from more than 20 states — listed alphabetically. They might or might not be the ultimate novels set in those states, but they’re in the discussion. And my apologies to non-U.S. readers of this blog for today’s U.S.-centric post. 🙂

Alabama: Fannie Flagg’s Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café contains a double bonus — great evocations of The Yellowhammer State’s present (as of the novel’s 1980s publishing date) and past.

Arizona: Terry McMillan’s Waiting to Exhale is the story of four women who live in Phoenix.

Arkansas: Charles Portis’ True Grit has an 1870s setting in places such as the rural Dardanelle area and the more citified Fort Smith.

California: Way too many novels to name are set in The Golden State, but, to offer just some examples, there are various John Steinbeck books (East of Eden, The Grapes of Wrath, Cannery Row, and so on). Also, the crime fiction of Walter Mosley (such as Devil in a Blue Dress) and Sue Grafton (her alphabet mysteries) expertly conveys the vibe of Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Santa Barbara (the city that Grafton’s Santa Teresa is based on), and other California locales.

Florida: Also set in the 1870s, The Yearling captures the atmosphere of a rural/backwoods part of The Sunshine State as author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings focuses on a boy and his fawn.

Georgia: Carson McCullers’ Reflections in a Golden Eye — a hypnotic 1941 novel that includes an unusual (for its time) look at homosexuality — takes places at an Army base in The Peach State.

Hawaii: David Lodge’s Paradise News is initially set in the United Kingdom but then moves to Hawaii — with the state’s many charms depicted amid the plot involving an ill relative and a romance.

Indiana: Booth Tarkington’s The Magnificent Ambersons, which has a strong theme of “old money” vs. “new money,” is set in Indianapolis.

Louisiana: Anne Rice’s multigenerational The Witching Hour spends many chapters in New Orleans — an evocative place for a spooky novel.

Maine: Many of Stephen King’s intense works are of course set here, and Richard Russo’s Empire Falls and Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge also unspool in The Pine Tree State. Strout’s title character is…flinty.

Maryland: A number of Anne Tyler novels, including The Accidental Tourist and Ladder of Years, are set in or near Baltimore.

Michigan: Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex stars the gender-confused Cal/Calliope, but a major supporting “character” is Detroit.

Minnesota: Sinclair Lewis placed many of his memorable novels in the Midwest, with Main Street set in The North Star State.

Mississippi: The setting of many a William Faulkner novel, including As I Lay Dying and Light in August.

Missouri: The adventures in Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer happen in The Show-Me State.

New Jersey: Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao toggles between the Dominican Republic and a well-described Garden State.

New York: Like California, New York (and especially New York City) is the locale for countless novels. Just five examples from different times would be Adam Langer’s Ellington Boulevard (set in the 21st century), James Baldwin’s Go Tell It On the Mountain (20th century), Jack Finney’s Time and Again (20th and 19th centuries), Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence (19th century), and James Fenimore Cooper’s The Deerslayer (18th century). Time and Again‘s superb photos of NYC in the late 1800s add to the effect.

Ohio: Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio — of course.

Pennsylvania: The Keystone State’s two biggest cities are covered in Lisa Scottoline’s Philadelphia-set mysteries (such as The Vendetta Defense) and in more than one Michael Chabon novel (including Wonder Boys).

Rhode Island: In Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland, Subhash leaves India for graduate studies in Rhode Island and stays there after college as the novel’s dramatic events continue to unfold.

South Dakota: The roamin’ Jack Reacher goes to The Mount Rushmore State in Lee Child’s 61 Hours, and boy is it cold and snowy in that thriller.

Tennessee: Cormac McCarthy’s atmospheric novel Suttree is set in Knoxville.

Washington: Maria Semple’s colorful Where’d You Go, Bernadette includes a satiric look at Seattle.

It of course helps if authors live in/have lived in a state they’re writing about, but there’s always visiting and/or researching the place — as Lee Child did for 61 Hours.

I know I left out many states, authors, and books. Which novels do you associate with certain states? If it’s a state you live or lived in, did the author render things accurately and interestingly?

My 2017 literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com. The latest weekly piece — about the November 6 election — is here.

128 thoughts on “Fifty Shades of States

  1. In today’s day and age, with the intolerance of trump administration I thought to mention a delightful book by one Brave Novelist John Irving.

    ” In One Person ” deals with several themes such as homosexuality, bisexuality, and AIDS. Other elements mentioned in the book concern transgender-ism and the idea of sexual awakening.

    The narrator William grew up in New England , recounted his High School Years.
    His grandpa Harry enthusiastically dons falsies to play women in Shakespearean plays . It is not lost on William, who is sexually interested in both boys and girls (with often charmingly funny results)

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  2. Bay State Books:

    Starkfield MA is the fictitious locale of Edith Wharton’s brief classic, “Ethan Frome”.

    “The Friends of Eddie Coyle” by George V. Higgins is a crime novel, largely told through spot-on dialogue. The setting is Boston MA.

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    • I appreciate the mention of two more Massachusetts-set novels! “Ethan Frome” is a powerful book that in many ways is as compelling as Wharton’s “The House of Mirth” and “The Age of Innocence.”

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  3. Not only Stephen King , John Irving’s Cider House Rules , the orphanage was in Maine as well. What a book , the movie won several awards . The Doctor performed an abortion to end an unwanted Pregnancy.
    I bet con don have never read this one or any other books in your blog Dave.

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    • Great mention, bebe! “Cider House Rules” was indeed set in Maine. A terrific novel — funny, moving, socially conscious.

      You’re right, I’d be amazed if Trump read any of the novels people have discussed in this blog for four years — a length of time I hope is the limit of his White House tenure. (Of course, he’s welcome to resign or be impeached before 2020.)

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      • Now, Donald J trump ended up being the loser, which is his own making.
        He was supposed to work for Us not create his own dynasty being dictator, and doing what he pleases no matter how illegal it is..

        All trump did was make Jim Acosta is a household name, man is a good reporter with age and looks on his side , while trump has none.

        Presidents comes and goes but reporters are forever on their own terms.

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          • I just re-watched Obama’s speech at his last White House Correspondents Dinner, most of which was very funny. But at the end, when he talked more seriously, he made such a great statement about the importance of what they do and freedom of the press. Trump, of course, has never had the guts to speak to this kind of gathering, so he’s skipped it completely. What a coward he is, but he’d rather demean the entire lot of them, except for his friends at Fox News.

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            • Obama definitely had eloquence and some courage, Kat Lit. Trump, as you note, has neither. But he has LOTS of non-eloquence and non-courage.

              And his definition of “fake news” is of course any news that is accurately negative about him…

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  4. CA, City of Angels With Dirty Faces Dept.:

    In his detective fiction, Raymond Chandler reported on the mores and morals or lack of same as were current and undercurrent in the Loss Angeles of the 1930’s, with a good eye for telling detail and a good deal of cynical humor. Ross MacDonald, successor in style and locale, describes the 1940-60ish period similarly, the difference being mostly, in my reading, the institutionalization of depravity in that later period.

    (‘Loss’ Angeles was a typo, but I like it enough to keep)

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    • Thank you, jhNY! The only Raymond Chandler I’ve read is “The Big Sleep,” but I liked it a lot — and one got a very evocative sense of the Los Angeles of that time. And, yes, “Loss” Angeles is a great typo — especially after last month’s World Series… 🙂

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      • So many books, so little etc., but keep an eye out for Chandler’s “The Long Goodbye”. Stretches the genre in pleasing ways….

        Last month’s World Series was a life-changer for me, in a small way– having heard about Alex Cora’s doings in Puerto Rico, and the Red Sox ownership’s support of those doings, I became, though a Yankee fan for decades, a fan of the Red Sox. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the Sox have an excellent team, or that its star pitcher of the Series, David price, comes from a small town in TN, and attended Vanderbilt.

        It’s a matter of comparative decency– there is much proto-fascist undercurrent to the Yankee presentation, and the Steinbrenner family is, as far as I am aware, wall-to-wall GOP.

        Next season, I may buy a cable package that allows me to see more Sox games (I already receive all the Yankee games with my current package). Doesn’t necessarily mean I won’t cheer on the Yankees when they play anybody else, but when the Yankees and Red Sox play, my loyalties will be tested.

        Part of me feels like a turn-coat, but it’s only a small part.

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        • I definitely want to read more of Raymond Chandler, and “The Long Goodbye” would be the one when I do.

          Yes, rooting for the Red Sox is less problematic in a way than rooting for the Yankees. A “minority” manager (which the Yankees have never had), no restrictions on hair length and beards, no Steinbrenner “legacy” (though George’s children seem nicer than he was, albeit probably still Republican, as most team owners are), etc. Of course, the Bosox did have the highest payroll this year, were the last team to sign an African-American player, etc.

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  5. Crime fiction of Walter Mosley (such as Devil in a Blue Dress) , the detective Easy Rawlins .
    The last one I read was ” Charcoal Joe”, another one where detective Easy Rawlins . gets into trouble from Los Angeles. Detective Easy Rawlins is an African-American private investigator, a hard-boiled detective and World War II veteran living in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles.
    He is featured in a series of best-selling mysteries set from the 1940s to the 1960s.
    I love these books because of his stories are from 1940`s to 1960`s. and the author himself lives in Los Angeles. The description of houses, settings .
    Sex was easy, comes and goes and no mention of the lie threatening diseases caused by casual sex.

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  6. When putting together my list of states below that it was only about crime fiction but realized I was hard pressed to come up with American novelists not in that genre. I finally came up with a few books I’ve read not too long ago:
    Virginia – “Prodigal Summer” by the wonderful Barbara Kingsolver, where I lived for a while, who also wrote a novel set in Tennessee – “Flight Behavior”
    Wisconsin/Vermont – “Crossing to Safety” by Wallace Stegner that goes between these two states and is a great novel. I lived for a short while in WI though never in Vermont, but I’ve visited it several times. 🙂

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    • I just saw a report that Lee Child is having Tom Cruise replaced by a more appropriate size actor as Reacher. I’m sure that will make my brother and other fans happy.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you for mentioning those novels, including the two by (the I agree wonderful) Barbara Kingsolver. “Prodigal Summer” is a GREAT book and “Flight Behavior” is pretty darn good, too. (Are you still calling yourself “Kat Lit” or are you back to “Kat Lib”?)

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      • No, I’m still going by Kat Lit, not sure what happened there, but Word Press and I still have issues that pop up here and there. I do recommend people I know who are looking how to set up a blog to try Word Press

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          • I’m not sure what has occurred where you live in NJ, but we had our first snowfall for the winter up here in the Poconos. I think we had at least the 5 inches that was predicted, but for the first time since I became an adult I once again find it quite pretty, mainly because I don’t need to be worried about driving in it, or losing power with the generator I have now, etc.

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            • Snow can be nice when you look at it that way! 🙂

              Five inches is a lot for mid-November. We got a good amount of snow, too — not sure how many inches, but schools are closed today. Nightmarish commute for people last night.

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      • It’s still a gray day and I think it’s getting worse, because Trump is still looking for a government shutdown because of the border wall. Other than being a campaign promise, who really wants a wall on the border that keeps out who knows who? It’s ridiculous, and it keeps Dems out of the spotlight. I’ve been half-listening to MSNBC this morning/early P.M. and what happens with Nancy Pelosi, I don’t care what anybody says, she is so much more important about having the smarts to run her party to gain all the seats she did this last election, as well as her
        herding her caucus to get the ACA passed. People forget about this, but I do not.

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        • That border wall idea IS ridiculous, Kat Lit. And sick, worthless, racist, unrealistic, unaffordable, etc.

          As for Nancy Pelosi, I have some mixed feelings. She is indeed very smart and very effective — one of the most effective House Speakers ever. But while Republicans paint her as a San Francisco lefty, she is in fact rather centrist — I think too centrist for an era when the GOP has tacked so far right. For instance, I wish she would endorse Medicare for All. I wouldn’t mind seeing a new (Democratic) House Speaker in, say, 2020.

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          • Dave, I agree that she is a centrist, but I think that helps in her keeping the caucus together than either a more conservative or a more progressive could do. But that may well change in 2020. I do think there will be more progressives in leadership positions this year, which is a good thing.

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            • Excellent point, Kat Lit. But the Democratic caucus is already getting more progressive than it was when Pelosi was Speaker during Obama’s first term. Hopefully there will indeed be more progressives in House leadership positions this year — even if one of them is not Speaker.

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  7. Hi Dave,

    The geography of the USA fascinates me, so thanks for the great topic! In Australia, we only have 6 states, and they’re all pretty similar. So for me words like New York and California and Florida have always been pretty much interchangeable. I’ve gotten better in recent years though. And probably a lot of my education comes from reading. I’m slowly making my way through John Jakes’ “Kent Family Chronicles” for the second or third time, and it’s amazing how different the books are compared to when I was a teenager. Back then it was all about the fiction and the drama. I didn’t realise how much real life history was in there. I’m up to book 5, and the civil war is about to start, so I guess it’s kind of important to realise not all states are the same.

    Of course, I’ve read lots of King books set in Maine, but I guess they are fictional states. I’m sure it would make the news if clowns really lived in the sewers there! King also set part of his “Dark Tower” series in New York though, and that was fun. It’s interesting to know how much difference can be present in one little city, let alone a state. Or a country. Of course, in Australia, we don’t have any national borders either, so I’m not quite why the people on the other side of the borders are so scary, and must be stopped at all costs, but that’s a topic for another day…

    On a completely unrelated note, I think I’ve decided to try JK Rowling’s detective fiction as my random Christmas book 🙂

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    • Thank you, Sue! Many of America’s 50 states are indeed rather different from each other (politically, climate-wise, etc.) but I imagine there are also significant variations between Australia’s six states. Reading novels set in a certain country and in a certain section of that country is definitely educational, as you note.

      Ha — clowns are probably not in Maine’s real-life sewers. 🙂 Maybe a few mimes. Stephen King’s fictional Maine is clearly creepier than the actual Maine.

      I think the majority of Americans are not that worried about people on the other side of the border. Heck, everyone but Native Americans are immigrants or descendants of immigrants (or slaves). Trump drums up anti-immigrant fear for political gain. Unfortunately, the guy has an enormous amount of power at the moment.

      I think (and hope) you’ll like Rowling’s debut detective novel “The Cuckoo’s Calling”!

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      • Dave – I hope my comment didn’t sound like I think America as a whole is xenophobic. It’s only really He Who In My World Has Been Voldemorted that I was thinking of. I’m just baffled about why this ‘caravan’ that I’ve been hearing about is so frightening. But I won’t try and figure it out. I’ll never understand why people’s differences must be persecuted, rather than celebrated.

        I’m almost finished reading Paulina Simon’s “Red Leaves” which surprisingly turned into a whodunit. I’m not normally a fan of crime solving when reading, I prefer to have stories absolutely spelt out for me, but I enjoyed this one, so I’m very much looking forward to “The Cuckoo’s Calling” although it’s not a genre of fiction that I would normally rush into.

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        • I hear you, Susan. The caravan is not frightening in any real sense; America’s far right (including the president you aptly compared to Voldemort) is making believe it’s frightening. The caravan is basically a bunch of people (many of them children) fleeing their countries’ poverty and violence — some of which the U.S. has caused. And they’re together because it’s safer than traveling alone or in small groups.

          “I’ll never understand why people’s differences must be persecuted, rather than celebrated” — sad and, yes, not understandable. 😦

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          • Dave and Sue, what I always remember from one of my sociology classes I took in college, is that there are more differences within a race or other group, than between them. I’ve tried to live by that throughout my life, because it holds true, except for groups such as the KKK or other racist organizations. But I hate to make exceptions wherever possible; however, such things are impossible to judge.

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  8. As a local once put it, I’m in a New York state of mind.

    “The Locusts Have No King”, by Dawn Powell, is set in post-WW2 Greenwich Village, and concerns itself with the literary and art demi-monde, in the process describing the neighborhood and its denizens with a knowing accuracy.

    “The Subterraneans” by Jack Kerouac, is a piece of misdirection in scene, as the author has based his novel (if I remember right, composed on a single roll of butcher paper he fed through his typewriter) on the doings of his associates and himself in the druggy and seedy areas of 1950’s New York City, but out of fear of police interest in the thinly-disguised people and places, changed the city to San Francisco, along with names and streets, etc. It remains a pretty telling description of one underside of the Beat era.

    “He” is a short story by HP Lovecraft, and concerns a lonely man who meets a stranger dressed in 18th century clothes while wandering in Greenwich Village late one night. After some conversation, the lonely man accompanies his new acquaintance on a trek through an old section of the neighborhood, having previously written:

    “My coming to New York had been a mistake; for whereas I had looked for poignant wonder and inspiration in the teeming labyrinths of ancient streets that twist endlessly from forgotten courts and squares and waterfronts to courts and squares and waterfronts equally forgotten, and in the Cyclopean modern towers and pinnacles that rise blackly Babylonian under waning moons, I had found instead only a sense of horror and oppression which threatened to master, paralyze, and annihilate me.”

    The “teeming labyrinths” he had wished for, he experiences, not by merely following his guide through “forgotten courts and squares and waterfronts”, but by following him through time itself! Lovecraft manages not so much to invoke any actual New York, but he does a wonderful and even terrifying description of a dream New York– a dream New York, although everybody’s dream is different, is what I believe most of us here walk around with inside our heads…

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    • Thank you, jhNY, for those well-described examples of New York-based literature!

      I was particularly intrigued by that Lovecraft story, which I’ll try to read soon. I’ve read a number of H.P.’s creepily excellent tales (and his “At the Mountains of Madness” novella), but not “He.” Excellent/eloquent summary and analysis of it.

      BTW, I was at my local library this morning, and found a Joseph Roth book! (Combining “Right and Left” and “The Legend of the Holy Drinker.”) I grabbed it, of course.

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      • Wow– as for those Roth titles, lucky you! I have read neither, but will– as soon as I clap eyes on that book!

        Also– as I mentioned a New York state of mind, I should also make mention of a New York State of mind: William Kennedy, who set things in Albany often, if not always, in his novels,most of which center on the fictional Phelan family. “Ironweed” won him a Pulitzer. I remember liking “Legs”, which concerned that Diamond fellow, a Prohibition Era gangster.

        “He” is, probably because of that paragraph I excerpted, a thing that is only ever so far from my thoughts, because it does, though in a typically purple and overwrought way, conjure up something hoped for and occasionally realized in my own experience, though most often I too find that modernity in all its manifest guises and structures, to be more oppressive than uplifting. There really are times here when you suddenly and unexpectedly get a view that fills your entire field of vision– and everything you see derives from two centuries back.

        Also: it’s short, so it takes no great commitment of time. Given that To Read list you’ve got, that’s a blessing…

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        • I guess I did get lucky — there were no Joseph Roth books there the last time I looked a while ago. Today, the one I found was next to about 10 other Roth books…Philip Roth.

          “Ironweed” is an excellent novel. Or did I just see the movie? There are certainly plenty of New York-set books that are not New York City-set books. I’m currently reading Richard Russo’s really good “Nobody’s Fool,” which is set in a small New York State town not that far from Albany.

          Yes, there can be glimpses of the past in many places, and a longing for a less-cluttered time (though of course there were plenty of pre-Industrial Age problems — poor sanitation, diseases that hadn’t yet become curable, etc.). That partial longing for the past is one reason I love historical fiction, as well as watching YouTube film footage from more than a century ago.

          Your discussion of “He” reminded me of a book I read as a kid called “The Magic Tunnel,” about a couple of 20th-century kids who descend into the subway and come out in 1600s Manhattan. I later learned it was illustrated by Jerry Robinson, who, as I think we’ve discussed before, created The Joker in Batman comic books and who I got to know when covering cartooning.

          I found “He” here: 🙂

          http://www.hplovecraft.com/writings/texts/fiction/he.aspx

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          • Also, whenever the yearning for the golden past overtakes me, I have a corrective: I imagine two weeks without rain in July in NYC before automobiles, when the horse dung, if unshoveled, turned to dust and filled the air with its fine particulates. Then I yearn for right now!

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  9. Posting problems again; here’s my second attempt at a comment:

    For evoking a regional climate, James Lee Burke has described the Louisiana bayous as well as any author has done in creating geographic atmosphere. I’ve only read the first two and one of the others of his Dave Robichaux novels. Although some of those novels take place elsewhere (I believe Dave lives in Montana in the next one in the series), he’s most closely associated with New Orleans and the Delta area. You feel steamy and humid as you read them and sense mosquitoes in the air. Some would even argue that Burke spends too much time on evoking a setting and not enough on plot development but that hasn’t bothered me so far.

    For dark sides of rural areas of particular states, I will cite James Dickey’s depiction of the mountain people in northern rural Georgia in ‘Deliverance’. For anyone who’s seen the film but not read the novel, you know what I mean. As I recall, the film is even more intense than the novel.

    Then there’s the Ozark area of Missouri in ‘Winter’s Bone’ by Daniel Woodrell, another one made into a memorable film. The backwoods meth heads in this novel seem almost immune from any law enforcement and enforce their own system of justice. This is particularly oppressive for someone who’s been raised in the environment but is perceptive enough to know how destructive it is and how much better her life could be if she could ever escape it.

    Finally, for a novel set in a place where I have walked, I was particularly struck by the portion of Neil Gaiman’s ‘American Gods’ set at Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga. When he describes the winding mountain path I could recall myself walking that same ground a couple of years before I read that novel. There’s no way that Neil could not have visited that place to do his research.

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    • Thank you for another wide-ranging and descriptive comment, bobess48! Glad your second attempt got through.

      I’ve heard very good things about James Lee Burke’s work from you and others. There is a lot of atmosphere to capture in Louisiana, and it sounds like Burke does an excellent job of it. Another Louisiana-set novel I know you admire is Walker Percy’s “The Moviegoer,” set in New Orleans.

      Great James Dickey and Daniel Woodrell mentions, too!

      And glad to hear Neil Gaiman’s (probable) in-person research rang true in the VERY interesting novel “American Gods.”

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  10. When Gerald O’Hara spoke of his love for Georgia as he pressed a clod of her red earth into the palm of his eldest daughter, Scarlett, in Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone With The Wind,” I felt as though I ,too, lived at Tara. Their neighbors, the Wilkes family, lived at Twelve Oaks, also etched in memory so well that I can almost smell the food when the Tarleton Twins argued over which of them would eat barbecue sitting next to Scarlett. Whether Mitchell’s ancestors’ memories of the Civil War, passed down to her, becoming the basis for GWTW, were true or not, they certainly painted a strong and lasting picture of antebellum Georgia, plantation life, and of the gallant south.

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    • Thank you, thepatterer! Silly me to forget to mention “Gone With the Wind” — perhaps the most famous novel associated with the state of Georgia. You painted a very evocative, descriptive picture of the “GWTW” setting. I might argue with the word “gallant,” but you may have been using it ironically. 🙂

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      • I think it’s possible to be utterly wrong-headed, and still ‘gallant.’ From an online dictionary:
        “Synonyms: brave, courageous, valiant, valorous, bold, plucky, daring, fearless, intrepid, heroic, lionhearted, stouthearted, doughty, mettlesome, dauntless, undaunted, unflinching, unafraid”

        Confederate soldiers were outnumbered, usually by a lot, in every major battle of the war, yet won more than a few, with fewer weapons, from rifles to cannon, and a lot fewer regular meals. To, me, it’s more depressing than anything else, to see the daring and sacrifice so many Southerners devoted to the sorry attempt at preserving slavery– but those who did so can, by dictionary standards, be called ‘gallant.’.

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  11. So happy to see my beloved “Empire Falls” mentioned again in one of your blogs, Dave. What a list you’ve compiled! Your knowledge of books and reading lists are amazing! This post reminded me of Mildred Walker’s fabulous novel, “Winter Wheat” set in Montana. This book inspired me to read more of her work and other books set in that state. “Montana 1948” but Larry Watson was another novel I found powerful. Two other authors that came to mind represent states you’ve mentioned in your post – Carl Hiaasen who writes about Florida and is hilarious. And James Lee Burke’s Robicheaux series set in New Orleans gave me such a feel for that city that when I eventually went to New Orleans it felt like a return trip instead of my first encounter.

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    • Thank you for the kind words, Molly!

      “Empire Falls” richly deserves to be mentioned more than once. 🙂 I’m now reading “Nobody’s Fool” (by the same author, of course), and it’s almost as good — which is saying something. The Sully and Beryl characters are fascinating.

      And great/well-described mentions of those Montana-, Florida-, and New Orleans-set novels! (Carl Hiaasen was the National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ 2010 Ernie Pyle Lifetime Achievement Award winner for his newspaper writing.)

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  12. Emily Ruskovich’s “Idaho” is the best example I can think of for recent reading. It is a tragic family story told over the course of many years, and like the name would suggest, the setting of Idaho provides an amazing backdrop for the story as it it adds to the sense of isolation and vastness. It’s like Idaho is a character itself, which is why I suppose she chose the title she did. It was a very beautiful read – I highly recommend it!

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    • An Idaho-based novel! Thank you, M.B.! I couldn’t think of one when writing my post, though I had a vague (perhaps erroneous) memory that maybe Jack Reacher had been there or passed through. Very nicely stated comment/analysis!

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  13. I can understand that you are not including authors you haven’t read, but, in your spare time (lol) Louise Erdrich’s “The Round House” gives a definitive picture of Native American life in North Dakota. It’s excellent and well worth the read.

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  14. Some novels have a strong sense of place. How about taking this idea one step further by asking the readers to identify novels that render their hometown or neighborhood in an accurate or compelling manner. Taking that even further, I have read great novels that took place in the buildings I have worked in and one, had several scenes in the room where I worked for ten years. It would be fun to have a “novels that walked where I walked” post.

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  15. I’ll just mention a few states, many of which I lived in. This is one reason I love series in that genre, because it affords one the opportunity to get to know the characters and their settings better over time:

    GA – the Will Trent series and the Grant Co. (fictional) series, both set in Georgia where the author Karin Slaughter lives
    IL – Sara Paretsky and her detective V.I. Warshawski take place mostly in Chicago
    FL – the Travis McGee series by John D. McDonald set in Ft. Lauderdale
    MN – William Kent Krueger whose detective is Cork O’Connor, and most often take place in northern MN, where both my parents grew up
    MD – one writer who I don’t think ever wrote novels that didn’t take place in Baltimore detective, Tess Monaghan, or her standalones
    NJ – we’ve discussed lately about the Janet Evanovich books set in Trenton and think she captured the essence of that city quite well
    DC – Barbara Michaels, whose books were mostly considered romantic suspense, were still quite interesting to me and set around the D.C. area, even though that’s not a state
    CA – too many to even mention here, but I’d add to my list the Ross MacDonald/Lew Archer series, the Spellman series (SF) and Marcia Muller

    Dave, I think I went over my self-described “few series,” so I’ll try to become more focused with my next comment. 🙂

    P.S. It’s Veterans’ Day officially today, and while I’m an anti-war person, that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate what every vet goes through in combat or coming back home, which many soldiers don’t get to do. We watched “The Guns of Navarone” last night which was a very good movie, but still so heartbreaking. I can only hope that our POTUS doesn’t get us embroiled in another war, but I’m not heartened by what’s occurred this weekend.

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    • Thank you, Kat Lit, for the VERY comprehensive list! The more the better! 🙂 And you made a great point that I should have mentioned in my column: Series can explore settings in a much more in-depth way than an individual novel can.

      I completely agree that people can be antiwar while deeply appreciating the sacrifices of veterans — who didn’t start the wars they fought in, even as the wealthy politicians and others who did start the wars almost never serve (and their children almost never serve, either).

      If it benefits him, Trump would not hesitate to start a war and put many soldiers and civilians in harm’s way. Heck, his recently sending troops to the southern border was a total political stunt to try to influence the midterm elections. The so-called “caravan” was no threat at all.

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      • Yes, as most of us are becoming quite familiar with, we keep excusing Trump with his outrageous behavior on the world stage. I think there are many or most of us who don’t agree with what we’re doing in Trump’s world. Almost of all of us are appalled by the comments made by him and his minions that are just outrageous, including his stance for the persons involved in our states. This doesn’t mean that I’m not somewhat supportive of him when he does something that we can support (which isn’t often). This author already wrote “The Bootlegger’s Daughter” that doesn’t also take place in NC and is about the rest of them that mention the rest of her family

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        • When there’s one outrage after another, it’s hard to keep track and a person gets sort of numb. Any single thing Trump has said or done would probably sink the careers of most politicians; he’s said and done hundreds of awful things. Maybe the sheer volume of his transgressions is his Teflon… 😦

          I’m trying to think of anything Trump has done since 2016 that I could even somewhat support, and I came up empty.

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          • Of course you’re right about Trump, but I was trying to appear open-minded, even though that’s impossible with someone who is a complete narcissist and pathological liar, among other things. If someone wrote a novel about anyone in power said anything he says all the time, most of us would consider it too far-fetched and unbelievable, but here we are and it’s scary to think that he might be president for the next 6 years.

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            • It’s good of you to make that effort, Kat Lit. But I guess the guy does not have one redeeming value. “…a complete narcissist and pathological liar, among other things” — exactly. And, yes, if he were created as a fictional character, he would seem completely far-fetched. I don’t know if I could take it if he were reelected — which is possible with Republican voter suppression, dirty tricks, media propaganda, etc. 😦

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              • I reread what I wrote in my comments above and realized that there were some that were quite disjointed. I suppose I was doing some cutting and pasting that didn’t work quite the way I wanted. Most notably, “The Bootlegger’s Daughter” was written by NC native Margaret Maron, including all of her Deborah Knott mystery series that takes place in that state. While I never lived in that state it’s where my best friend has lived ever since she graduated from UNC in Chapel Hill.

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                • Thank you, Kat Lit, for the mention of Margaret Maron and her Deborah Knott series! If your best friend lives in North Carolina, you’re sort of an honorary resident of that state. 🙂

                  Another NC-set novel that belatedly occurred to me was Charles Frazier’s “Cold Mountain.”

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  16. Such a fun topic! I thought I’d add Alaska to the mix: Jon Krakauer’s “Into the Wild” isn’t a novel but it reads like one. It’s nonfiction account of a young man’s life and death (of starvation) in Alaska. I happened to be reading it while hiking (in Scotland, not Alaska, but still), and it scared the heck out of me! And Eowyn Ivy’s “The Snow Child” is a reworking of the Russian fairy tale “Snegurochka” set on a homestead in Alaska.

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  17. Wait, David. If someone is going to mention Sinclair Lewis, Minnesota is fine, but his true influence came in “The Jungle,” set in Chicago, which I bet you know is located in my home state of Illinois — where residents voting on a governor would do well to elect at the same time a special prosecutor to investigate that governor.

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    • Thank you, Bill! I should have also mentioned Upton Sinclair and “The Jungle” and Chicago and Illinois. (Richard Wright’s “Native Son” is another iconic novel set in The Windy City.) And, yes, as you funnily put it, Illinois has had its share of corrupt politicians.

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  18. Nicholas Sparks does a nice job in his books of using the shore areas of North Carolina to offer his trademark appeal. In Susan Wittig Albert’s China Bayles mysteries, the Texas Hill Country often becomes somewhat of a character in its importance to many of her plots.

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    • North Carolina! Thank you, Becky! I was trying to think of novels I’ve read set in that state and couldn’t come up with any, but your comment reminded me that the two Nicholas Sparks books I’ve read — “A Walk to Remember” and “Message in a Bottle” — have NC settings.

      And I appreciate the Susan Wittig Albert/Texas mention! Cormac McCarthy has also set several novels in The Lone Star State — “Blood Meridian,” “All the Pretty Horses,” “No Country for Old Men”…

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  19. Stephen King from Maine author of Misery, Shining and so many more. Speaking of this author, I started having day dreams about what could happen in in real life but I rather not say any more. 🙂

    Mark Twain from Missouri, Adventure of Tom Sawyer and so many others once lived in Cincinnati, Ohio once was known to say , “ When the World comes to end , I would rather live there because they are 20 years behind.”or Something like that. But it was never proved if Mr. Twain actually said it. But being in OH now I tend to believe it.

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    • Thank you, bebe! Stephen King has indeed written many memorable books with Maine settings. I’d like to see Trump made a character in a King novel and watch what happens to him. 🙂 I see King’s tweets on Twitter, and he loathes the Oval Office occupant — as he should be loathed.

      Twain lived in SO many places, also including Missouri, Connecticut, California, New York, etc. I remember that Cincinnati quote, but I liked the city when I attended a conference there this past June. Of course, I only visited for four days — too short a time to really know any place.

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      • Would you believe we lived in Overland Park, KS for 30 years and it is turning Blue with a female Governor ? And OH so Red now it hurts, while Nashville being sort of Blue TN got itself Marsha.. a screeching witch 😦

        While in KS long ago, I voted for Dole , I worked on a Dole grant, also Nancy Kassebaum , both Republicans and very good.

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        • So great, bebe, that your former state is turning at least partly blue!

          Ohio’s recent political bent is very disappointing, but at least Sen. Sherrod Brown was reelected. And I guess Taylor Swift’s tweets weren’t enough to bring a bit of blue to Tennessee. 🙂 😦

          Yes, there used to be somewhat-moderate Republicans like Robert Dole and Nancy Kassebaum in office. Almost none left anywhere. GOP pols like Jeff Flake and Susan Collins are fake “moderates.”

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        • Spent my formative teenage years going to high school in Nashville TN, and Marsha Blackburn really reminds me of some of my contemporaries therein, none of whom were people I would have been close to, except by enforced seating arrangement.

          If there’s one teensy sliver of silver in the black cloud that is the senate vote result, it’s the polls taken before the vote. Bredesen was ahead in a few, which I’ve taken to mean some number of people lied about who they were going to vote for, ashamed to say so. Next step? Being too ashamed to actually vote for Blackburn or others of her ilk. This particular step could take some time…

          Ironically, as my mother and brother live there still, I have good reason to move close, and would like to, were it not for the politics in the state, which have devolved into something cruel and stupid.

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          • Thank you, jhNY! You hit the nail on the head — some politicians are adult versions of our worst-nightmare fellow students from high school.

            I hope your “next step” theory is correct…

            And I hear you about part of you wanting to move closer to your mother and brother and part of you not wanting to be in a very red state. Heck, my late mother asked me about moving to Florida; one of the many reasons I said no was not wanting to be in a reddish state.

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            • FL is no place for those who seek life to be– it seems to inspire dissolution in the young and is a traditional destination for those who expect to live nowhere else after.

              My sister contracted AIDS there, and spent 14 hours on a wooden bench in a public hospital waiting, before being refused admittance, resident of the state though she was. Fortunately, when my mother came down and flew her back to Nashville, she was admitted to a hospital there immediately, and lived another two years.

              As you might have concluded, I hate the place, but then, given my experience, I would. When she first got sick, my mother and I came to Miami and spent nearly every minute at her bedside. One evening, when we needed a break, I suggested we drive out into the Everglades. We drove for a while, and parked in what looked like a pleasant spot. It wasn’t; in the distance from where we pulled over a barbed wire fence was visible. Behind it, Haitian refugees.

              Ugh.

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              • So sorry about your sister, and about your experiences in Florida. Your sister’s public hospital nightmare — awful. Fenced-in Haitian refugees — awful.

                It’s definitely a state of contradictions — some positives, but a nasty place in other ways. (I’ve been there four times this year alone dealing with my mother’s estate, with a fifth trip next month.) Even with voter suppression, it’s telling that the vile Republicans Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis got enough support to seemingly “win” the recent Senate and gubernatorial elections.

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          • Actually Nashville is my favorite place , I worked there , have friends there. Not too long ago I also heard Bredeson was ahead. I still wonder oh he won in Nashville, who knows. We would like to go back there. Sounds like Screeching witch will be there for a long time.

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            • I would bet my last dollar that Nashville voted for Bredeson– based on what I observed during the 2016 election at a local polling place: a line that stretched for half a city block outside and several dozen feet inside– and in the spot reserved for political placards nearby, not one Trump sign. Not one. The rest of the state did what it could to negate the will of most Nashvillians, effectively. I suspect there’s a similar tale to be told re Bredeson.

              The little bit of me that has Pollyanna tendencies imagines a single term in the Senate for Blackburn, as she has tied herself to the mast of the Trumpy (an actual builder of yachts, by some odd coincidence) yacht, and she will not be able to cut herself loose when it’s time to abandon ship. And even if she did manage somehow to get free, the rats would long before have taken up all the room in the lifeboats.

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  20. Of course many novels set in New York including “Julie & Julia” which I have on my bookshelf near Sue Monk Kidd’s, “The Mermaid Chair” which is set on an island off coast of South Carolina. I think when a story is set on an island it leads to isolation, pathos because people can be cut off from mainland but can also breed serenity as opposite of densely populated areas sometimes. Perhaps a future blog topic, Dave,books set on islands off of a state or country. If you said country, England particularly, I’d add the book, “The Guernsey Potato Peel Society.”

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    • Yikes! I can’t believe I forgot Sinclair Lewis and Minnesota! I’ll revise the piece in the next few minutes. Since I’m only including authors I’ve read, I unfortunately can’t add Louise Erdrich.

      Thank you, literaturepoliticsfamilylife!

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        • Fitzgerald’s good-not-great debut novel “This Side of Paradise” had some scenes in Minnesota, where semi-autobiographical protagonist Amory Blaine lived before going to Princeton University.

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          • I read that so many decades ago that I’m afraid nothing, or very nearly, remains in my memory about it. Mostly just a feeling of burgeoning anticipation that resides in youth generally.

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            • “…burgeoning anticipation that resides in youth generally” — that definitely pervades the novel. I don’t remember many details of the book, either; I had to refresh my memory via Wikipedia. 🙂

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      • Not on the tree of fiction, but this bit of history from Bill Bryson: https://applemcg.wordpress.com/2016/04/12/one-summer-america-1927-minnesotans-in-its-pages/ includes F Scott Fitzgerald, Sinclair Lewis, and the real hero of the year: Charles A Lindbergh. I didn’t include Fitzgerald, as I’m not so big a fan as of Lewis. Garrison Keillor has been a huge fan, fellow resident of Summit Ave, St Paul. If you have heard yet, let me be the bearer of glad tidings,GK has returned to TWA (The Writer’s Almanac), which I hope many of you here pick up on. He, of course, is no longer supported by MN Public Radio, but has found funding to return to the internet at: http://www.garrisonkeillor.com/radio/. I trust this reference adds to Dave’s work here. e.g. “Why does Wendy’s locate close to McDonalds?”

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        • Thank you, literaturepoliticsfamilylife! A lot of great history in your first link!

          I’m a fan of Garrison Keillor’s writing, and once interviewed him by phone around the time his newspaper column began — perhaps a dozen or so years ago?

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        • After spotting it for sale on a card table here in NYC, I picked up a book a few years ago, titled “Why Is Your Country At War?”, which was written by Charles August Lindbergh, the aviator’s father, himself a Congressman from MN, and an ardent critic of the Federal Reserve, and of the US’s participation in World War One, which Lindbergh the father believed, among other things, was a conspiracy to preserve the financial hierarchy of international banking. Ironically, his own father was an embezzler who fled Sweden..

          Charles the aviator flew his father to campaign rallies, at least once with near-fatal results.

          Few today bother to trace Charles the aviator’s anti-war stance at the eve of WWII to his father’s during WWI– but there it is.

          As for Mr. Keillor, I will always be grateful he had room on his radio show for Chet Atkins, guitarist. I’d guess that most people who know his name today know it because of those broadcasts.

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            • jhNY, that’s a very interesting history of Charles Lindbergh the father, who, along with his much more famous son, was not…Anonymous.

              Garrison Keillor does seem to be an open-minded guy with wide-ranging tastes. (I guess he also recently had his “MeToo” moment, which took him down a peg in my estimation.)

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