The Washington Post
The School on Heart's Content Roadby Carolyn Chute
The School on Heart’s Content Road begins with Mickey Gammon, a fifteen-year-old dropout who has been evicted from home and seeks shelter in the Settlement—a rural/i>
Carolyn Chute’s newest paperback returns to her beloved town of Egypt, Maine and delivers a rousing, politically charged portrait of those living on the margins of our society.
The School on Heart’s Content Road begins with Mickey Gammon, a fifteen-year-old dropout who has been evicted from home and seeks shelter in the Settlement—a rural cooperative in alternative energy, farm produce, and local goods, founded by the Prophet.” Falsely demonized by the media as a compound of sin, the Settlement’s true nature remains foreign to outsiders. There, Mickey meets another deserted child, six-year-old Secret Agent Jane”—a cunning, beautiful girl whose mother is in jail on false drug charges and who prowls the Settlement in heart-shaped sunglasses, imagining her childish plans to ruin the community will win her mother’s freedom. As they struggle to adjust to their new, complex surrogate family, Mickey and Jane witness the mounting unrest within the Settlement’s ranks, which soon builds to a shocking crescendo.
Vehement and poetic, The School on Heart’s Content Road questions the nature of family, culture, and authority in an intensely diverse nation. It is an urgent plea from those who have been shoved to the fringes of society, but who refuse to be silenced.
The Washington Post
Chute, author of the acclaimed The Beans of Egypt, Maine, returns to Egypt with an emotional but uneven novel portraying the St. Onge Settlement, a rural co-op community led by the mythic, flawed, Gordon St. Onge, hero of the downtrodden who people the Settlement along with Gordon's wives and children. Through her distinctive, muscular prose and vivid depictions of Maine's resilient residents, Chute revisits familiar themes: the government's injustices toward the poor, restrictive gun legislation, faults in the education system and the evils of corporations. The novel also defends and demystifies the militia movement (Chute is involved with the 2nd Maine Militia, a grassroots organization advocating for the working class). The narrative, fractured with a multitude of perspectives, jumps between Gordon, Richard "Rex" York, head of the local militia, and Settlement kids Mickey Gammon, 15, and precocious six-year-old Jane Meserve, whose mother is incarcerated on spurious drug charges. By turns inspiring, then preachy, Chute, who in the acknowledgments says there are five completed novels about the Settlement, which might explain the unresolved story lines, has an undeniable talent for depicting humanity at its most impassioned and impoverished. (Nov.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
In 1995, just after moving to Maine, I sat in a diner eating blueberry pancakes and listening to a conversation in an adjacent booth. I could hear words like militia and mobilizing and heated discussion of the wrongs perpetrated by local and state government and of how to right them. Little did I know that I may have been seated near Rex York and Gordon St. Onge, two main characters in Chute's new novel, which is set in and around a rural, communal/intentional living group known as the Settlement in fictional Egypt, ME. Troubled 15-year-old Mickey Gammon is befriended by local militia leader Rex and then Gordon, the Settlement leader often spoken of as The Prophet. Soon we meet six-year-old Jane Meserve, whose mother is jailed on exaggerated drug charges, and Gordon's multiple wives-including 15 year-old Bree, who mobilizes a march on the Maine State House. Of course, the Feds are always close by, watching the Settlement's growing influence. The first third of this work, Chute's first novel after 1999's critically panned Snow Man, is a welcome return to the mastery of character description and setting that distinguishes her earlier works. But, all too soon, the reader loses faith amid a jumble of diatribe, stereotype, repetition, plot dead ends, and the relentless hero-worship of Gordon St. Onge. Optional. [See Prepub Alert, LJ7/08.]
Jenn B. Stidham
“Brave, passionate and raw, fiercely written . . . A profoundly human novel . . . Absolutely one of a kind.”USA Today
“A roiling stew of cajoling comedy, political diatribe, and incisively rendered portraits of rural poverty and despair.”The Washington Post
“A triumph of characterization and color . . . Vivid . . . Breathtaking . . . Enjoy the ride.”The Christian Science Monitor
“[A] vibrant pastiche of a novel . . . [with] energy-on-the-loose prose and anti-establishment atmospherics.”Chicago Tribune
“Carolyn Chute emerges as a modern-day Dickensian voice for the losers in class warfare. . . . [The School on Heart's Content Road is her]best book to date. . . . We have our Dickens now.”San Diego Union Tribune
“Raw and strong and vivid, with deep resounding echoes of Faulkner and Upton Sinclair . . . Chute’s a scientist, brilliant and mad, lighting matches under beakers, mixing compounds, breaking words into their smallest divisible parts.”The Los Angeles Times
“Like a ferocious bulletin from an alternate universetumbling, pell-mell, brilliant and strangecomes this explosive, discomfiting . . . beautiful novel.”The New York Times Book Review
“Conscience-altering . . . Chute bares a hidden America . . . [offering] perspectives on the need for justice and mercy, a safe house for the heart.”O, the Oprah Magazine
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Meet the Author
Carolyn Chute is the author of four other novels, The Beans of Egypt, Maine, Letourneau’s Used Auto Parts, Snow Man, and Merry Men. She has been awarded a John Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and a Thorton Wilder Fellowship. Chute currently lives in southwestern Maine with her husband and daughter.
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Carolyn Chute drops the smell, taste and especially the conversational sound of America in the 2000s into your lap, and makes you enjoy the terror of facing our surreal new reality. Nothing is not touched: religion, politics, morals, childhood & adolescence, sickness, insanity, progress, philosophy, environment, and, of course, the State of Maine. This is Chute's current new masterpiece - a joy to read.