The setting: early-19th-century Massachusetts. A motley array of stragglers are eking out a bare survival in a decrepit hamlet nicknamed Dogtown because of its scavenger packs of wild canines. These stubborn, weary castoffs live on society's edge -- as widows, witches, spinsters, whores, and freed slaves, they have no other choice. None of them know that Judy Rhines, the middle-aged maiden who lives among them, harbors a secret that could destroy this last refuge. This is Anita Diamant's most powerful novel since The Red Tent.
…a lovely and moving portrait of society's outcasts living in an unforgiving and barren but harshly beautiful landscape.
The New York Times Book Review
Diamant's new novel is not, as its publisher claims, a work of historical fiction. More accurately, what she has createdas she did in her bestselling first novel, The Red Tentis the overlay of a modern sensibility on an imagined past…In The Red Tent Diamant used a gaudy, Technicolor style to engineer her Old Testament visions of sex and violence, while The Last Days of Dogtown is as plain as sunlight on polished wood. But in both books, she has managed to find an appropriate (if not a true) vocabulary to conjure up a world.
The Washington Post
Fans of Diamant's The Red Tent who were disappointed by her sophomore effort (Good Harbor) will be happy to find her back on historical turf in her latest, set in early 1800s Massachusetts. Inspired by the settlement of Dogtown, Diamant reimagines the community of castoffs-widows, prostitutes, orphans, African-Americans and ne'er-do-wells-all eking out a harsh living in the barren terrain of Cape Ann. Black Ruth, the African woman who dresses like a man and works as a stonemason; Mrs. Stanley, who runs the local brothel, and Judy Rhines, an unmarried white woman whose lover Cornelius is a freed slave, are among Dogtown's inhabitants who are considered suspect-even witches-by outsiders. Shifting perspectives among the various residents (including the settlement's dogs, who provide comfort to the lonely), Diamant brings the period alive with domestic details and movingly evokes the surprising bonds the outcasts form in their dying days. This chronicle of a dwindling community strikes a consistently melancholy tone-readers in search of happy endings won't find any here-but Diamant renders these forgotten lives with imagination and sensitivity. Agent, Amanda Urban. (Sept.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
In her latest novel, Diamant (The Red Tent; Good Harbor) expertly weaves together seemingly disparate stories of a dying Massachusetts town into something greater than the sum of its parts. In the early 1800s, Dogtown is a village on Cape Ann populated by spinsters, free slaves, and prostitutes, all of whom are reviled by the surrounding communities. Beginning with the death of a town patriarch and ending when the last resident expires, Dogtown's final days are filled with all the secrets a town can keep. Several characters stand out, including Tammy Younger, the town pariah, and Judy Rhines, whose affair with a free African is kept secret to heartbreaking effect. Diamant has a gift for storytelling and breathes life into this dying town and its eccentric inhabitants. Highly recommended for all public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/05.]-Anastasia Diamond, Cleveland P.L. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
A dying Massachusetts town in the early decades of the 19th century forms the evocative backdrop for a richly imagined cast of characters. Indeed, Diamant (The Red Tent, 1997, etc.) throws almost too many people at us simultaneously in the opening chapter. Seventeen characters are introduced in considerable detail at the 1814 wake for one of the few remaining men in the "collection of broken huts and hovels" derisively called Dogtown by its more prosperous neighbors on Cape Ann. The women who gather to bid farewell to Abraham Wharf include mysterious Black Ruth, an African who dresses in men's clothes; wizened Easter Carter, who keeps a meager tavern in her home; vicious Tammy Younger, reputed to be a witch; a trio of bedraggled prostitutes; and warmhearted Judy Rhines, who will stand at the novel's emotional center. The only living man present is brutal John Stanwood; two boys there, Sammy Stanley and Oliver Young, will find very different paths for themselves over the next 20 years. Diamant quickly and obliquely sketches complex relationships among characters we have just met, which may be initially confusing or even annoying to some readers. But as the narrative pulls back to reveal various individuals' pasts, she skillfully elicits sympathy for many of these hard-pressed people and makes even the nastiest of them creepily fascinating. All of Dogtown's residents have suffered blows from a brutal society, or fate's random workings, or both. The saddest story is the deep, thwarted love of Judy and Cornelius Finson, a free African who happily shared her bed for a few years until warned off by a local racist. They long for each other as they pursue separate destinies and as Dogtown growspoorer and shabbier. Anyone who can leaves, but only Oliver finds a happy marriage and children. One by one, the inhabitants die off, and Diamant does not spare us the grim details. This is a deeply satisfying novel, populated by people we care about, delineated in spare, elegant prose. Moving, absorbing and engaging: first-rate fiction that will appeal to the literary-minded as well as those in search of just a plain-old good read.