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Book Review: The Last Days of Dogtown: Anita Diamant’s Tale of a Dying Hamlet

March 20, 2019

The village of Dogtown was a real place on Cape Anne, in Massachusetts. By the mid 1800s the town had faded away, and its inhabitants existed only in rumours and hearsay, much of which spoke of witches and other such colourful characters. Diamant came upon a pamphlet containing a walking map of the area around Dogtown and tales of some of the hamlet's inhabitants.

The novel is made up of Diamant's imaginings about the lives of the handful of people still living in Dogtown after it's glory days, the last to reside in that place.

Characters

There is Judy Rhines, a gentle soul who struggles with lonliness. Easter Carter, the buoyant little innkeeper who hears everyone's stories with an eager ear, and holds them in strictest confidence. Black Ruth, the woman who dresses like a man and keeps to herself the tale of how she became a stonemason. Sammy Stanley, raised in his aunt's backwater brothel. Oliver Younger, a scrawny young man growing up under the miserable roof of his abusive aunt. And Tammy Younger, whose vicious tongue and wicked heart terrorize Dogtown's inhabitants.

There are also Cornelius Finson, the freed slave unsure of what to do with his freedom, and Mr. Stanwood, the town drunk.

Diamant weaves together the stories of this patchwork cast of characters, telling the tale not only of individual people, but of a tiny community, rejected by the rest of the world. She also brings to life the area and the time. While this novel's plot rests only lightly upon any historical fact, it's setting, the lifestyles and behaviours and culture that create the novel's world are solidly based in history. Diamant has beautifully recreated a world of the past.

Combination of Genres

The Last Days of Dogtown is an intriguing cross between a traditional novel and a collection of short stories. The book opens with the death of one of Dogtown's elders, and a view of the community as a whole. From then on each new chapter tells the story of a different character, with later chapters continuing those stories.

The novel reads like a collection of short stories whose plots, characters and places mingle and intertwine to form a larger whole. This intriguing style is both compelling and charming. The book lends itself well to those who enjoy novels as well as to those whose preference is for short stories.

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