A new person in town drives the plot of many novels dave astor on literature electricity trading


Most of us know what it’s like to move to a new town or city — whether it’s to start college, begin a job, escape a bad marriage, retire, or for other reasons. So we really relate to fictional characters who also do that. We watch as they find a home or apartment, deal with initial loneliness and homesickness, navigate different cultural norms, try to make friends, become an object of curiosity to new neighbors and coworkers, etc.

I recently read John Grisham’s Camino Island, which describes the theft of the original manuscripts of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s five novels and then focuses mostly on two characters who move to the Florida isle of the title. One, Bruce Cable, had settled on Camino two decades earlier and opened a very successful bookstore — yet he still allegedly dabbles in stolen manuscripts despite not needing to financially. The other, struggling author Mercer Mann, is convinced by a certain investigative entity to spend six months on the island (which she visited as a kid) to spy on Cable.

Oates’ novel Solstice has protagonist Monica Jensen move from New York City to a teaching job in rural Pennsylvania after her marriage ends. Some residents wonder why Monica left an exciting urban life for such a sleepy area, but the calmness of her new locale is something she needs, at least temporarily. Yet things become far from calm as she develops a very intense, problematic friendship with eccentric local artist Sheila Trask.

Anne Tyler’s Ladder of Years has protagonist Delia Grinstead walk away from the husband and children who don’t appreciate her, and much of the novel focuses on how Delia adapts to a different locale and her new solitary life — and on whether Delia should return to her family.

In Big Little Lies, the Liane Moriarty novel that inspired the hit TV series gets its page-turning plot going when single mother Jane Chapman moves to an Australian town with her young son and tries to fit in with the wealthier families who also have children in Ziggy’s new school.

Many older novels, of course, also feature characters starting anew in different places. One prime example is George Eliot’s Silas Marner, in which the title character moves from one England town to another after a “friend” frames him for a crime and then marries Marner’s fiancee. The bitter Silas becomes a miser until something almost magical changes his life.

I have been reading entirely too many MC Beaton detective novels featuring small-town Highland copper Hamish Macbeth– I’ve read 32 out of a possible 36. Somewhere well before I hit #30ish, the author jumped the shark, before going back for another jump or 3. She has repeated descriptions, plot points, character types, settings, everything. One of her many repeats, though, I think, inevitable give the dictates of the series, is the arrival of a stranger among the insular inhabitants of a remote Scottish town, usually resulting in a death of either townsperson or stranger. Or 3.

Less compulsive completists than myself might have stopped reading before now, but such types must appreciate that I bought the entire series on a libris for about a buck a book, and they were supposed to be a treat for my wife, sorta like the model train set Daddy bought for his son but can’t keep his big mitts off of, and besides, it’s something we can share and anyway the series is no worse than Midsummer on the teevee, and I watch them mostly without complaint. Or 3.

I’ve been reading the Hamish books like others eat potato chips, one after another in rapid succession, and so , I can’t identify just where the first shark-jumping took place, but it involved drugs and our hero taking a trip overseas. But then the series seemed to pick up a bit, only to head over the shark again– my theory is that the more the author is determined to stay relevant re drug crimes, the more hard to believe her plotlines and characters. To put it plan, she doesn’t seem to know what she’s on about, but keeps at it regardless.

Also, somewhere after the second dozen in the series, Beaton seems to have lost much of her drive or something, and to write the Hamish books out of obligation or remaining momentum or a combination of the two, so that she tells, rather than shows, and forces events, rather than allow them to unfold realistically. I suspect the success of Agatha Raisin, and the attendant pressures to produce more Raisins, may have a lot to do with it.

Having said all this, I still recommend the series as a sort of BBC- teevee-level entertainment in print. It’s a fun way to spend time in a book, or in my case, several, and you even learn a little about the places and mores of Highland Scotland!

Dave, I’ll mention another Liane Moriarty novel, “The Last Anniversary.” Sophie is told by her ex-boyfriend, Thomas Doughty, that his recently deceased Aunt Connie has left her house on Scribbly Gum island to Sophie, even though she had only met Aunt Connie two times before. She heads to the island to claim her inheritance, partly because of her fascination with the Munro Baby mystery that happened years ago on the island, of which the Doughty clan has made a cottage industry from, including a yearly anniversary of the events surrounding the mystery.

From Jane Austen, there are multiple examples: Bingley and Darcy arriving at Netherfield Park near Longbourn; the Dashwood sisters moving to Devonshire and meeting Willoughby and Colonel Brandon; Frank Churchill coming to the fictional town of Highbury and flirting with Emma while secretly engaged to Jane Fairfax; and of course, Henry and Mary Crawford moving into the parsonage at Mansfield Park and causing all sorts of problems for the protagonists.