The Price of Land in Shelby

The Price of Land in Shelby

by Laurie Alberts

View All Available Formats & Editions

Shelby, Vermont is a place torn between past and future, a contemporary New England town "where time was revealed not by geology, but by tumbling stone walls" and, increasingly, the division of family farms into "executive lots" where rich flatlanders build expensive homes. Against this backdrop the thirty-year saga of the Chartrain family is played out in a novel…  See more details below


Shelby, Vermont is a place torn between past and future, a contemporary New England town "where time was revealed not by geology, but by tumbling stone walls" and, increasingly, the division of family farms into "executive lots" where rich flatlanders build expensive homes. Against this backdrop the thirty-year saga of the Chartrain family is played out in a novel that exposes the harsh realities behind the picture postcard views, but is incisive in its truths about the strength of the human spirit. The five Chartrain siblings are wracked with an emptiness instilled by bad parents, bad timing, and bad luck. Bright but self-proclaimed perpetual loser Mitchell escapes the beatings of his alcoholic father and seeks to combat the social, economic, and spiritual pummelings the continues to feel by dealing cocaine and dreaming of sailboats. Donna, a wild teenager with a desire "to taste that moment of destruction," finds temporary solace in the arms of a local farm boy. Nancy, the youngest, is overwhelmed by a feeling of dread, a sense that she is only "a paper cutout going through the motions." And cousin Jamie, who believes that women are beyond his reach, struggles to hold on to what remains of the family land. When the young Chartrains leave home, their fortunes spin even more frantically, bringing conflict, crisis, compulsion, and even death, along with some hard-won triumphs. How these very real, often weak, but always resilient characters resist caving in to despair shapes this gritty but gripping story of life in a Vermont the tourists never see.

Read More

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Thirty years (from the 1960s to the '90s) in the life of a working-class family living in rural Vermont are traced in this quiet second novel by Alberts. Here, as in her Michener Award-winning first novel, Tempting Fate, a coming-of-age tale set in 1970s Alaska, Alberts is at her best when evoking place. For better or worse, the Chartrain family of Shelby, Vt., is bound to the local landonce farmland but now a grim landscape of trailer homes and ramshackle houses whose yards and driveways are cluttered with junk. Burdened by an abusive father and a sickly mother (who is ultimately diagnosed with cancer), the Chartrain children struggle all their lives merely to get by. Mitchell, the eldest, turns to drug-dealing to support his own family. Donna, an adventurous, intelligent adolescent, finds love with a farmboy. Nancy, the youngest daughter, stays home to take care of her alcoholic father after her mother dies. And Marsha, who yearns for a better life, marries a staunchly lower-class alcoholic like her father. Alberts rotates the stories of these characters (and of others, like Jamie, a steelworker cousin of the Chartrains) as she takes them through the years. This approach, while inventive, disrupts the narrative flow, since some stories are evoked in depth, while others are remarkably slim. Clean prose and empathetic characters, however, compensate for the lax pace and loose structure, rewarding patient readers with a richly observed tale of suffering and survival. (Oct.)
Library Journal
This account of a troubled family from the author of Goodnight Silky Sullivan (Univ. of Missouri Pr., 1995) will stun readers. Once upon a time, an almost stereotypical Vermont couple lived fairly happily on a farm. The land was their own, the buildings were kept in repair, the maples produced enough revenue each year, and the couple was blessed with two daughters. The daughters did not fare so well, however. Anne, for instance, ends up presiding over as cursed a crew as the Jeeter family of Tobacco Road. Husband Lowell is an abusive drunk and loser; the oldest child is killed in an auto accident; and, of the three youngest girls, one has an affair and a nervous breakdown, another repeats her mother's mistake and marries an abusive drunk, and the last bears a child with a deadly disease. As with most of us, life goes on, we grow, we change, we survive, and so does this family. This beautifully written book is not easy to read, but it is riveting. Highly recommended, especially if your readers are fans of Joyce Carol Oates.Dawn L. Anderson, North Richland Hills P.L., Tex.
Kirkus Reviews
Plowing through years of accumulated resentments and frustrations within a Vermont family, second-novelist Alberts (Tempting Fate, 1987) touches every grim aspect of backwoods New England reality as the offspring of a damaged marriage grow up in the shadow of their mistreatment as children.

The Chartrains are in pitiful shape in the early '70s: Mom has cancer and sleeps all the time, Dad has a drinking problem and can't hold a job, and they live with their five kids in a half- finished house on land given them by her father. Dad has a heavy hand with the children as well, especially with his only son, Mitchell, who runs away to Maine as soon as he can, then joins the service. Eventually, he comes home, surviving on a series of short- term, undemanding jobs. Of Mitchell's sisters, daredevil Donna gets pregnant at 14 and has an abortion; Nancy, the youngest, barely escapes being sexually abused by Dad when Mom finally dies; Sally goes to live in Virginia but then returns, marries and divorces an abusive husband, and raises her two girls alone; Marsha, the oldest and most responsible, dies young, in an Easter accident caused by her drunken husband. Mitchell, meanwhile, has married and fathered three and begins making money in the '80s by dealing cocaine, but he gives it up when he finds himself addicted and increasingly abusive to his kids, like his father before him. He makes a fresh start with his family on the Maine coast, where he hosts a gathering with his sisters in an attempt to bring closure to their painful, discordant pasts.

Drink, drugs, abuse, death, and redemption—it's all here, neatly packaged in a single generation of a hardscrabble family: The details are convincing enough, but unlike the novels of Carolyn Chute, the larger picture lacks the strength and breadth to transcend the commonplaces of a straightforward family chronicle.

Read More

Product Details

University Press of New England
Publication date:
Hardscrabble Books-Fiction of New England
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.00(d)

What People are saying about this

Bret Lott
"Laurie Alberts is a fine writer whose work I have loved for a long time. But with The Price of Land in Shelby, her storytelling gifts shine keener than ever before. This is a dark and powerful saga no just of a New England family, but of all of us, the story big in scope and big in heart. A wonderful book by a wonderful writer."
Robert Olmstead
"Alberts has written a great turning of a family in time, their pain and silence and yearning come to be a source of meaning in a merciless physical and spiritual geography. A truly wonderful achievement."

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >