(HOST) Long before Vermont locations became popular in film, scenes from the Green Mountains found their way into print. Commentator Tom Slayton says that a new book provides an exhaustive survey of fiction set in Vermont.
(SLAYTON) Did you know that Ian Fleming set one of his James Bond thrillers in Vermont? I didn’t, until last week when I began to pick my way through a new reference book, soon to be published by the Vermont Humanities Council.
Reference books are not normally my thing, but this one is different. It’s called A Guide to Fiction Set in Vermont, and it is nothing short of amazing – more than 300 pages of plot summaries – hundreds of them – of all the fiction written since 1835 and based in Vermont.
To be exact, this new guide summarizes some 484 works of fiction by 334 authors. All of those books and stories are set in Vermont. Frankly, that’s about 350 more books and stories than I would have guessed called Vermont home.
Of the 334 authors, only 153 of them have actually lived in Vermont – a fact which says something about our state’s hold on the popular imagination of America at large.
Just about any kind of story you can imagine has been set in Vermont – and shows up in this guide. There are mystery stories, sentimental romances, Horatio Alger success stories, and stories in which the Horatio Alger types succeed financially, but fail so egregiously in the common decency department, that they become overbearing jerks.
There are many expositions of the familiar stereotypical themes – stories about the loss of farming; tales of Vermont’s heroic past – settlement struggles and the adventures of the Green Mountain Boys or their fictional counterparts.
The clash of woodchuck and flatlander – old Vermont versus new Vermont – is an oft-repeated motif, as are explorations of the lifestyles of the poor and dispossessed. And there are many stories about outsiders who come to Vermont seeking a simpler life. They either find it and are happy or they don’t, and learn the error of their ways.
But while there are plenty of stereotypes listed among these 434 tales, there are also many subtler works that portray a more complex Vermont reality – or at least use it as a setting.
The compiler of this huge Guide to Fiction Set in Vermont is Ann McKinstry Micou, and what she has done with this master guide is no less than mind-boggling. How many of us have even read 434 works of fiction set in a single state, much less written an accurate, understated plot summary for each one?
Micou started on this immense project for the simplest of reasons – she had just moved here and wanted to understand Vermont better. So she decided to read her way through all the Vermont fiction she could find as a way of doing that.
She read the work of famous authors like Ann Beattie, Chris Bohjalian, John Gardner and Pearl Buck – and, yes, Ian Fleming. She also read the work of dozens of unknown authors. Her reading became a “passion,” she says.
The result of that passion is this amazing guide. It’s not light reading – it is a reference book, after all. But it’s a reference book that any devotee of Vermont literature will want to use – and a book with a lot of Vermont soul as well.
Tom Slayton is the editor of Vermont Life magazine. He spoke from our studio in Montpelier.