The Locals by Jonathan Dee

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The Locals by Jonathan Dee
(Random House – August 8, 2017)

Book Description (from Goodreads)

A rural working-class New England town elects as its mayor a New York hedge fund millionaire in this inspired novel for our times—fiction in the tradition of Jonathan Franzen and Jennifer Egan.

Mark Firth is a contractor and home restorer in Howland, Massachusetts, who feels opportunity passing his family by. After being swindled by a financial advisor, what future can Mark promise his wife, Karen, and their young daughter, Haley? He finds himself envying the wealthy weekenders in his community whose houses sit empty all winter.

Philip Hadi used to be one of these people. But in the nervous days after 9/11 he flees New York and hires Mark to turn his Howland home into a year-round “secure location” from which he can manage billions of dollars of other people’s money. The collision of these two men’s very different worlds—rural vs. urban, middle class vs. wealthy—is the engine of Jonathan Dee’s powerful new novel.

Inspired by Hadi, Mark looks around for a surefire investment: the mid-decade housing boom. Over Karen’s objections, and teaming up with his troubled brother, Gerry, Mark starts buying up local property with cheap debt. Then the town’s first selectman dies suddenly, and Hadi volunteers for office. He soon begins subtly transforming Howland in his image—with unexpected results for Mark and his extended family.

Here are the dramas of twenty-first-century America—rising inequality, working class decline, a new authoritarianism—played out in the classic setting of some of our greatest novels: the small town. The Locals is that rare work of fiction capable of capturing a fraught American moment in real time.

Review

Politically charged and powerful in its subtlety, THE LOCALS is a thought-provoking look at the post-9/11 years in a small Massachusetts town.

Thanks to Random House for providing me with a free review copy – all opinions are my own.

This book opens with a chapter that is different in every single way than the rest of the book, an introduction that turns out to be important to the overall story, but one that I actively disliked while I was reading it due to its style and brashness. However, once I got past that I couldn’t put this book down. This isn’t a book of suspense and intrigue or even political drama. It is a commentary on our country’s political system and housing markets in the tumultuous period between 2001 and 2009, wrapped in the package of a novel about the citizens of a small town. Time almost seems to melt away as you read, without clear delineations of time passing, and narrators and perspective change almost without you knowing it is happening. I became invested in the lives of the characters and couldn’t stop thinking about my memory of that time period – both in my own life and what I remember happening in the country around me.

I highly recommend this book to readers who are politically charged and like to think about implications of a story far beyond its pages – the fact that this book was written before the 2016 election just blows my mind.

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