The Locals By Jonathan Dee

    Mark Firth is a contractor and home restorer in Howland, Massachusetts, who feels opportunity passing his family by. After being swindled by a financial advisor, what future can Mark promise his wife, Karen, and their young daughter, Haley? He finds himself envying the wealthy weekenders in his community whose houses sit empty all winter.

    Philip Hadi used to be one of these people. But in the nervous days after 9/11 he flees New York and hires Mark to turn his Howland home into a year-round “secure location” from which he can manage billions of dollars of other people’s money. The collision of these two men’s very different worlds—rural vs. urban, middle class vs. wealthy—is the engine of Jonathan Dee’s powerful new novel.

    Inspired by Hadi, Mark looks around for a surefire investment: the mid-decade housing boom. Over Karen’s objections, and teaming up with his troubled brother, Gerry, Mark starts buying up local property with cheap debt. Then the town’s first selectman dies suddenly, and Hadi volunteers for office. He soon begins subtly transforming Howland in his image—with unexpected results for Mark and his extended family.

    Here are the dramas of twenty-first-century America—rising inequality, working class decline, a new authoritarianism—played out in the classic setting of some of our greatest novels: the small town. The Locals is that rare work of fiction capable of capturing a fraught American moment in real time. The Locals

    Jonathan Dee ↠ 2 Characters

    This is the first book by Jonathan Dee that I've read. And well, it starts off with a cynical sense of humor that some people might not appreciate especially as it pertains to NYC 9/11. But I like cynical.

    From there, the action moves to Howland, MA. Things calm down, but those little hints of cynicism stay. Everyone seems to be trying to figure out how to outsmart everyone else. Dee has the ability to really nail people and their motives. He shows how almost everyone has at least some asshole tendencies. They are also not the best or the brightest, and you can see in advance where some of them are going to end up. He also writes amazingly well. Even little descriptions like “the river looked like it was in as bad a mood as everyone else”.

    The novel rolls along at a good clip, surprisingly, given how much of it involves character studies. This isn't a book of laugh out loud funny moments, but I found myself snickering repeatedly. In a weird sense, this book reminds me of Elizabeth Strout’s work. One character’s chapters rolls into another’s and thus, the plot moves forward. There are numerous characters, almost all the citizens of Howland seem to be represented one at a time.

    As the plot moves along, the storyline delves into the political and social aspects of a small town. There is a lot of interesting commentary here. What happens when a political figure tries to impose his will on the town? What are the consequences of no tax increases? What stories does the town tell itself about its history?

    My only disappointment was over the ending, as the book just seemed to stop. Not sure what kind of resolution I was looking for, as this book mirrors life in how it chugs along.

    My thanks to netgalley and Random House for an advance copy of this book.

    Hardcover I received a copy of this book from Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.

    Sprawling tome about small-town America, insightful, thought-provoking, yet strangely unmoving.

    I agonised over what to rate this book. On the one hand, I wanted to give it a solid 5*, due to the sheer intricacy and breadth of it - it is masterfully plotted, and the narrative device (shifting continuously from character to character) is formidable. On the other hand, I felt like giving it a 3*, as I'm not sure I actually enjoyed it that much. So in the end, I went for something in between.

    The book starts with a petty criminal, trying to legally reclaim money he's had stolen by a con-man. It's in the wake of 9/11 - which immediately makes the reader believe that this will be the focus of the book. Not so at all! This initial section is actually a clever framing device, leading you into the real heart of the story.

    The petty criminal meets Mark Firth, a construction guy who's also been conned out of his money. Turns out, Mark is a bit of a naive idealist, who lives out in a small town. And that's where the narrative travels - back to Mark's life, not to mention his dissatisfied brother Gerry, his complicated sister Candace, and his wife and child, Karen and Hayley.

    Their lives are at the centre of the book, but there's a vast ensemble of other characters, notably Philip Hadi, who saves the town by becoming its selectsman and investing plenty of money into it.

    Where the book really excels is its exploration of America post 9/11 - the growing sense of unrest, dissatisfaction and paranoia. It's also a powerful examination of attitude - those in the town that are desperate to preserve the old way of life, and those who realise this simply isn't achievable.

    However, at times it felt too ambitious - too sprawling and complex, and dare I say it, a little dull in places. Some characters completely reeled me in (LOVED the enigmatic Hadi, what a fascinating individual), and others left me cold. If this book had been tightened up and focused a little more, I think it could have been a masterpiece - but hey, that's just my personal opinion.

    Overall, I'm really glad I invested the time in it, because although I wasn't always enjoying it, it got me thinking, and that's a good thing! Hardcover Jonathan Dee’s thoughtful novels may not be ripped from the headlines, but his plots hug the contours of our era. In such books as “The Privileges,” which was a finalist for the 2011 Pulitzer Prize, Dee writes about the way financial upheaval shapes modern relationships and morals.

    His prescient sensitivity has never been more unnerving than in his new novel, “The Locals,” which describes a billionaire running for office and taking over a small town. Given that premise, it’s tempting at first to interpret this story as some kind of parable of our present political plight, but the timing makes that improbable. After all, a complex novel takes years to compose, and, more important, there’s no parallel between Dee’s hyper-competent billionaire and the one flailing around in the White House. Instead, “The Locals” feels attuned to the broader currents of our culture, particularly the renewed tension between competing ideals of community and self-reliance.

    The story begins in. . . .

    To read the rest of this review, go to The Washington Post: Hardcover This book opened with a compelling character, scene, and the promise of plot that never came—setups were never fulfilled, characters disappeared after one appearance and their presence seemed ultimately unimportant. But I didn’t know all this until I got to the end. I kept hoping and kept reading because the people and place were interesting and I trusted I was being expertly led to a raison d’etre for the whole endeavor and some kind of connection between the disparate parts.

    Nope. Ultimately this novel felt structurally flawed. Yes, local rural Massachusetts people and politics were well portrayed. But there was a ton of inner dialogue and well-rounded people in a story that wound, sprawled, and for me, never came together with any oomph. Hence, whatever the point of the story—some of the cover blurbs say it’s about the housing bubble or American selfishness or rich vs. average—it sputters. It was a long tease with no pay-off.
    Hardcover Classical Air Guitar

    The novel covers some timely issues and both the writing and character development are quite exceptional. Yet, the novel itself is unexceptional because it lacks the rhythm and propulsion required to drive the story and reader forward. In that way, it reminds me of an air guitar which--following through all the necessary motions but lacking actual strings--is ultimately doomed to dead air. Hardcover

    I like Jonathan Dee. He's an author who makes me think about current affairs and the state of American people.
    **THIS BOOK** HURT MY BRAIN MORE THAN ALL HIS OTHER BOOKS COMBINED!!!! And.... I LOVED IT!!!!! ..... drove me crazy. My tummy was in knots at times.

    Please -please forgive me -- 'writing' a review is EXHAUSTING my body!!!
    I honestly don't know how to write about it. I can TALK about it for DAYS it seems. -*Talking* about it seems to exhilarate me. IF I COULD TURN THIS INTO A SPEAKING REVIEW .... we'd all have more fun! My writing part of my brain is sluggish compared to my verbal side.
    My poor husband,... I've chewed his ears for the past two days, following him around like his shadow.... chattering about building construction- and employee/employer appropriateness. NOTE: My husband is a General Building Contractor for 40 years remodeling upscale homes in Silicon Valley.

    In The Locals, there is a substantial amount of construction jargon mixed with characters having 'issues' ...[some annoying ...others completely warped] -- that you see, I HAD TO *TALK* ABOUT THESE PEOPLE!!

    I spent an hour on the phone this morning talking with a friend about the whole darn story. You'd think I was one of the Firth siblings.....
    Mark Firth, Gerry Firth, Candace Firth, Renee Firth ( married with another last name, and the only sibling who moved away from Howland), the parents of these adult kids ..... and me? Elyse Firth Walters? Haha. Don't laugh...the reader gets 'that involved' in the lives of everyone in this small town. Patty Melt for lunch anyone at the Undermountain Cafe? It's what Phil Hadi eats whenever he goes there.

    While on the phone with my friend this morning, I started gossiping about every character from what they ate, to who cheated who, to who hated who and why.
    And now...I'm SPENT!!!

    The Locals .... makes a nice bookend to The Privileges. There's a satire-ish ring - a look at social realism in both novels. Only ... rather than this story being about the rising success about a privileged couple....
    We meet several overconfident and condescending people living in a small town in America: Howland, Massachusetts.
    There are almost no likable characters in this small town....but the novel itself is complex and compelling.

    The novel begins the day after 911, in New York City. The slimmest character is introduced. He has no name. It's a jaw-hanging story for readers. ---And I man 'HANGING'....
    Be prepared to wait awhile to find out more about slimball later in the story.

    Mark is a General Contractor - married to Karen. The loss of money from a really stupid mistake on Mark's part -- is not helping this marriage 'thrive'. They have one 8 year old girl, Haley, who attends the private school in town. Mullins Day School.
    The public school - Howland Elementary school seems to be a horrible mess. So.... for those families who can pay the 18,000 a year, do.
    PAYING for Haley's school solves ALL PROBLEMS! Covers up adult egos and superiority attitudes. Haha!!!

    Gerry, worked in Real estate for Century 21. He got fired for f#%king the secretary 'in' one of the listing homes - where he brings clients. In desperate need of money... he begins to work with his brother, Mark, flipping houses. As my husband said....
    GOOD LUCK WITH THAT..... in a very thriving economy after 911 in small-town America! Hahaha...,again. ( note: no sarcasm on my part) :)

    Candace: I was hoping she would be the likable character. Fat Chance. However, when she made an eighth grader cry in her human biology class that she was teaching I was thrilled! Lol. The 8th grade girl, Bayley Kimball, with the words juicy across her ass isn't likable either.

    Phil Hadi..... The richest man in town, Benevolent Billionaire,... is actually the most likable... the most down to earth ...,the most humble! There is an aura about him that is different from all the other locals. He was simply clear about who he was. He wasn't competing with anyone --he wasn't guarded. He was a decent/generous man that didn't need a layer of protection around him.
    His compassion stood out among many other characters filled with hated and selfishness. The contract between those struggling and those not - is something I began to examine from all sides. People are very different when they don't have security of having a job - than those who do. In a small town - everything is magnified.
    There was not a lot of places to hide.

    Jonathan Dee, an extremely gifted writer, asks us profound questions about life - truth and deception - and responsibility under breakdowns and pressure.
    Lots of ordinary frustrations....but.... there is nothing ordinary about this novel.
    Great discussion book!!!!!

    Thank You Random House, Netgalley, and Jonathan Dee Hardcover I don't even know how to describe this--it took me on a journey through post 9/11 America.
    It's not for everyone, but I loved it!

    Full review to come! Hardcover 4 high stars! I've not loved all of Jonathan Dee's novels, but I sure like his sensibility as a writer and I love how it comes through in The Locals. Many may find that not much happens in this novel, but it really worked for me. Moving from 2001 to close to the present, Dee creates an ensemble of characters who live in Howland, Massachusetts. Together, the characters represent a political, economic and social tableau of the times. The story starts in Manhattan the day after 9/11, and then moves to Howland, moving through time as told from the perspective of a number of characters. Moving from one slice of time to another, from one character's perspective to another, I felt like I was seeing recognizable personal struggles cast in a familiar political and economic context. Howland was as much a character as the individuals who live there -- the small town's evolution over the decade plus depicted is of a piece with the current and political dynamics of the US. There is one particularly brilliant story thread about the effects of having a very wealthy Manhattanite take on a political position in the town. To me this is Dee's strength -- his characters are never divorced from their historical context, but they manage to remain multidimensional. I loved reading this one. It doesn't have the acerbic tone of Dee's other novels. This time round, he seems to care more for his characters than he did in, for example, The Privileges. Having said this, this is not a cheery or optimistic read. This was not a flaw for me but may be for others. Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for an opportunity to read an advance copy. Hardcover Few contemporary authors have as keen an eye for observing society and personal dynamics as Jonathan Dee. His previous novels have looked at the haves and have-nots, the way the public revels in and revolts against scandal, and failing and thriving marriages, among other topics.

    In his latest novel, The Locals, Dee takes on the foibles of a small New England town being caught in a tug of war between those who want the town to stay the same and those who believe it can be better than it is, and are willing to invest in it—as long as things go their way.

    Howland, Massachusetts has never been much of a tourist attraction; there's really only one site worth seeing, the historical home in which a former railroad baron and his ill wife once lived. In the days post-9/11, Howland is, like many towns, populated by those who believe in personal freedoms and those who believe the government should do anything it can to keep people safe.

    Mark Firth, a contractor and home restorer, was actually in New York City on 9/11, as he was planning to give a deposition in a case against the man who swindled him out of his family's savings. Now, as he worries about how much longer people will need his services and what that will do to his family, and thinks about those wealthy people who come up to Howland, build fancy houses, and leave them empty all winter, he wonders why some people have all the luck and others have to fight for every last thing.

    Philip Hadi was one of those wealthy people, but after 9/11, he brought his family up from New York permanently, as he wasn't sure whether as a wealthy financial manager he might be a target of a subsequent attack against the U.S. He employs Mark's company to bolster his home's security features, and the two build a relationship of sorts, one which inspires Mark to look beyond contracting and home restoration and consider pursuing investment in Howland's housing market.

    Meanwhile, Hadi, who enjoys the small-town feel of Howland and believes it can be more than it is, becomes the town's first selectman, and uses his money to essentially buy the town's loyalty, as he saves businesses and citizens from foreclosure and bankruptcy. But as he moves to turn the town into a wholly different place, and encroach on personal freedoms he doesn't agree with, the town starts to push back.

    These stories play out against a backdrop of those of other Howland residents, including Mark's sister, brother, wife, daughter, and other citizens. There are stories of infidelities, alcoholism, struggling to find yourself, dealing with aging parents and feeling as if you're the only one carrying that weight, financial woes, etc.

    I felt as if Dee tried a little too hard to make this book an epic story of sorts, because there are just so many characters mentioned in and out of different sections that it was difficult to remember who was whom. Then, suddenly, as the book would move into another section, an undisclosed amount of time would have elapsed and major (although perhaps not surprising) plot points would simply be mentioned in passing.

    Dee is a great writer, and his storytelling shines through this book, which is a little more of a downer than I expected. I just wish he made his characters more appealing and sympathetic, because I didn't feel there was really anyone to root for. Additionally, I felt that the whole first section, although it helped develop a little bit of Mark's character, was nearly superfluous, so I'm not sure why it had to drag on as long as it did. Still, the social commentary Dee provides is tremendously insightful and on point, especially in today's political environment.

    NetGalley and Random House provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!

    See all of my reviews at http://itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blo.... Hardcover When there was a crisis, a tragedy, you wanted it to change you---or not change, but reveal you, show you who you really were when all the usual bullshit worries were stripped away. Show you your true, best self.

    I finished this book almost a week ago, and am still at a loss for how to describe it.

    Thanks to Dee, we get to spend some time in a small New England town. It's quaint as all heck, but the citizens are suffering economically . . . until a wealthy new resident begins doling out cash to various businesses and individuals. But, there's nothing like the feeling of indebtedness to trigger resentment, and things don't stay peachy for very long.

    The Locals is definitely not the feel-good book of the season; I can't think of a single inhabitant of this imaginary town who is not dissatisfied with something. But, it's also one of the most real, and involving books I've read in a long time. Dee employs an unusual writing technique here - something akin to a relay race where characters pick up a thread of the story and run with it. I found it disconcerting at first, though quickly fell in love with the style. Not everyone will like this book: it moves slowly, the tone is pretty bleak, and most of the characters are not particularly likable. I suspect there will be much criticism over the ending - it's not a happy one, and not everyone gets a succinct epilogue.

    Just like real life . . . Hardcover