cover image The Locals

The Locals

Jonathan Dee. Random House, $28 (400p) ISBN 978-0-8129-9322-6

Small-town America in the aftermath of 9/11 is the setting for Dee’s engrossing new novel. His blue-collar characters, each of them pursuing the American Dream, are vividly developed, and his insights into how they think about the government (ineffective and corrupt) and their rights as citizens (ignored, trampled) are timely. Mark Firth’s family has lived in or near the fictional town of Howland in the Massachusetts Berkshires for generations. A hard worker in the construction trade, a devoted husband and father and a man of strong moral principles, he wants to parlay his earnings into stock market investments. As Mark’s wife, Karen, perceives, however, Mark is gullible and guileless, and he is devastated when he loses his savings to a con man. When the next opportunity to get rich seems possible, Mark reluctantly enlists his brother, Gerry, a feckless real estate salesman, as his partner. Gerry, meanwhile, has been writing a blog that criticizes the town’s new first selectman, a rich ex-Wall Street hedge fund manager who, postelection, is rapidly exerting his power as an authoritarian politician. A dozen or so more characters round out this picture of a community on the economic skids, whose citizens seethe with a sense of futility and resentment as old values and traditions fade. “I feel like the world is trying to get rid of me.... I feel threatened,” one character says. Alcohol in excess and secret sexual trysts help ease the pain, but jobs are scarce and families drift apart. Dee, who wrote about a wealthy segment of society in The Privileges, handles the plot with admirable skill, finding empathy for his bewildered characters. He creates tension as a reckoning day arrives, and strikes the perfect ending note. (Aug.)