Episode 45: The Locals by Jonathan Dee
In the small town of Howland, Massachusetts, in the foothills of the Berkshires, there's one post office, one tiny library, one decrepit diner. There are the summer people -- wealthy New Yorkers there for the scenery -- and then there are the locals -- people like Mark Firth, a contractor; his brother Gerry, a real estate agent; his sister Candace, an elementary school principal. The line between the two is clear. Until it's crossed, when hedge fund manager Mark Hadi moves his family to their summer residence full-time in the wake of 9/11, and volunteers himself as mayor. He cuts tax rates to historic lows, foregoing his own salary and offering to shoulder any emergency costs. Is he the town's salvation, or does his rise herald the death of democracy? A disquisition on inequality, class, power, and politics, this novel breaks open the American Dream, seeking to see what, if anything, is at its core.
Host Cyd Oppenheimer talks with author Jonathan Dee about writing a prologue that doesn't seem like a prologue ("I liked the idea of a kind of "smash cut" first chapter that led to the rest of the book but only in a thematic way"); about the rise and fall of the "social novel" ("The idea of dramatizing a social conflict or social problem by representing experiences on either side of that problem is a lot trickier now and that has to do with the reader's loss of faith in the magical abilities of the writer himself"); and about why fiction continues to matter in today's America ("[to remind ourselves] that the world is wide and history is long and that you can get out of the awful bubble that we're in, at least temporarily, and gain some perspective on it, by reanimating other times, other cultures, through art, through the novel in particular").