A New Person in Town Drives the Plot of Many Novels

Most of us know what it’s like to move to a new town or city — whether it’s to start college, begin a job, escape a bad marriage, retire, or for other reasons. So we really relate to fictional characters who also do that. We watch as they find a home or apartment, deal with initial loneliness and homesickness, navigate different cultural norms, try to make friends, become an object of curiosity to new neighbors and coworkers, etc.

Numerous novels have that “new person in town” element, and I’ll discuss a few of those books today.

I recently read John Grisham’s Camino Island, which describes the theft of the original manuscripts of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s five novels and then focuses mostly on two characters who move to the Florida isle of the title. One, Bruce Cable, had settled on Camino two decades earlier and opened a very successful bookstore — yet he still allegedly dabbles in stolen manuscripts despite not needing to financially. The other, struggling author Mercer Mann, is convinced by a certain investigative entity to spend six months on the island (which she visited as a kid) to spy on Cable.

(Grisham’s novel has the added bonus of mentioning many real-life authors and novels.)

Other contemporary best-selling writers — including Joyce Carol Oates, Anne Tyler, Liane Moriarty, and Stephen King — have also been among the many novelists to use the “new person in town” theme in interesting ways.

Oates’ novel Solstice has protagonist Monica Jensen move from New York City to a teaching job in rural Pennsylvania after her marriage ends. Some residents wonder why Monica left an exciting urban life for such a sleepy area, but the calmness of her new locale is something she needs, at least temporarily. Yet things become far from calm as she develops a very intense, problematic friendship with eccentric local artist Sheila Trask.

Anne Tyler’s Ladder of Years has protagonist Delia Grinstead walk away from the husband and children who don’t appreciate her, and much of the novel focuses on how Delia adapts to a different locale and her new solitary life — and on whether Delia should return to her family.

In Big Little Lies, the Liane Moriarty novel that inspired the hit TV series gets its page-turning plot going when single mother Jane Chapman moves to an Australian town with her young son and tries to fit in with the wealthier families who also have children in Ziggy’s new school.

Rose Daniels in Stephen King’s Rose Madder leaves home to escape her abusive police officer husband Norman, and then sees her new life (in a city that might be Chicago) become threatened as Norman tries to hunt her down.

Many older novels, of course, also feature characters starting anew in different places. One prime example is George Eliot’s Silas Marner, in which the title character moves from one England town to another after a “friend” frames him for a crime and then marries Marner’s fiancee. The bitter Silas becomes a miser until something almost magical changes his life.

What are some of your favorite novels that fit this topic?

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 — which discusses an old train station, standardized testing, and more — is here.