The Price of Land in Shelbyby Laurie Alberts
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.
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 redemptionit'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.
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