The Last Days of Dogtown

Anita Diamant, Author
Anita Diamant, Author . Scribner $25 (288p) ISBN 978-0-7432-2573-1
Reviewed on: 06/27/2005
Release date: 09/01/2005

Fans of Diamant's The Red Tent who were disappointed by her sophomore effort (Good Harbor ) will be happy to find her back on historical turf in her latest, set in early 1800s Massachusetts. Inspired by the settlement of Dogtown, Diamant reimagines the community of castoffs—widows, prostitutes, orphans, African-Americans and ne'er-do-wells—all eking out a harsh living in the barren terrain of Cape Ann. Black Ruth, the African woman who dresses like a man and works as a stonemason; Mrs. Stanley, who runs the local brothel, and Judy Rhines, an unmarried white woman whose lover Cornelius is a freed slave, are among Dogtown's inhabitants who are considered suspect—even witches—by outsiders. Shifting perspectives among the various residents (including the settlement's dogs, who provide comfort to the lonely), Diamant brings the period alive with domestic details and movingly evokes the surprising bonds the outcasts form in their dying days. This chronicle of a dwindling community strikes a consistently melancholy tone—readers in search of happy endings won't find any here—but Diamant renders these forgotten lives with imagination and sensitivity. Agent, Amanda Urban. (Sept.)

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