Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Last Days of Dogtown by Anita Diamant

The Last Days of Dogtown by Anita Diamant
Published July 2006 by Scribner
Source: I bought the audio edition at my local library book sale

Publisher's Summary:
Set on the high ground at the heart of Cape Ann, the village of Dogtown is peopled by widows, orphans, spinsters, scoundrels, whores, free Africans, and "witches." Among the inhabitants of this hamlet are Black Ruth, who dresses as a man and works as a stonemason; Mrs. Stanley, an imperious madam whose grandson, Sammy, comes of age in her brothel; Oliver Younger, who survives a miserable childhood at the hands of his aunt; and Cornelius Finson, a freed slave. At the center of it all is Judy Rhines, a fiercely independent soul, deeply lonely, who nonetheless builds a life for herself against all imaginable odds.

My Thoughts:
I know many of you love Diamant's The Red Tent. I didn't. I liked it well enough but I didn't love it and I wanted to know what it was about Diamant that everyone loved so much. I thought maybe if I "read" more of her work, I would understand so I picked up The Last Days of Dogtown when I found the audiobook on sale at the library book sale.

This one started off slow for me...and it stayed that way for 9 CDs. Which, once I got used to it and stopped trying to think of it as a novel, wasn't a bad thing. Diamant has written an unusual book, one which is more a collection of short stories, all centered around the same characters and all in the same setting. Throughout the book, Diamant focuses on one character at a time, using that time to give the reader the background of that particular character but always moving the story forward in time. This actually made the book a good choice for listening to while driving as there are is no particular plot line or twists and turns that can't be missed if you happen to be, oh I don't know, focused on your driving.

Readers on the Barnes & Noble website give this one an average of 3.5 stars. I'd have to agree. The Last Days of Dogtown is a quiet, well-written, well-researched novel about a real village that lacked the emotional attachment I crave in a book.

Remains Of A Dogtown Cellar
Dogtown, on Cape Ann, Massachusetts, was originally known as the Common Settlement and was inhabited by respectable people. It's location offered some distinct advantages but over time, the rocky landscape was largely abandoned, becoming known as Dogtown and inhabited only by widows, prostitutes and outcasts. The reason for the name remains unknown, it may have been that abandoned dogs breed and became feral or it may have been because the inhabitants lived like dogs.

Diamant included in The Last Days of Dogtown some real people and the facts that are known about them including Tammy Younger, who was reputed to be a witch, and Cornelius "Black Neil" Finson, a freed black man who was found living half-dead in a cellar and removed to a poorhouse where he died. Today Dogtown is rumored to be haunted.

In the 1930's, a man named Roger Babson hired unemployed stone cutters to carve inspirational sayings into the rocks along the Dogtown road and to number the stone remains of the homes in the village.


  1. The Last Days of Dogtown would have the potential ingredients for me to give it a go - an author that I've quite enjoyed in the past, a narrative based on a real place with interesting characters that convey his/her 'own story' although almost in a short story form. Your review has me interested from the historical point of view and I would want to see the village that inspired the book and the carved sayings on the rocks.

  2. I did enjoy The Red Tent quite a bit, even though it's been a gazillion years ago now. I never picked this one up, but I also tend to enjoy interconnected short stories, or short story cycles. Might give this one a go after all.

  3. I'm one of those people who really liked The Red Tent, and I picked up an audio version of The Last Days of Dogtown to get more of Diamant. This was at least five years ago, and while I remember liking the book, I really don't remember any of it apart from the basic premise. Just reading your review didn't trigger any memory bells--not the characters' names, not their storie, nothing. I have to say that five years ago, I was in a busy, distracted mental place, so maybe that's why.

    It's weird to count a book as being liked, but have no real memory of its story. Maybe you hit it right--no emotional attachment translates into no lasting memory.

  4. I actually like Diamant quite a bit, and would love to read this one, or better yet, listen to it. It does sound sort of episodic and character focused, but that's not a bad thing for me. I'm sorry that you didn't quite love this one though. Your background research on it was stellar, as was your review!

  5. I have her Red Tent sitting on my shelf but haven't gotten to it. I'm not sure if I'd like it but you've made me curious to at least give it a go and see.

  6. I was one that loved The Red Tent, which led me to acquire most of her other books...that I haven't read yet. When I saw that you reviewed this, I had to see what you thought since I have it sitting on my shelf. It sounds like something that will interest me and that it's based on a true place/time period is all the more intriguing.

    Great review, Lisa!

    How are you doing on Les Mis? Urgh! There are parts that just drive me crazy. On and on and on and then bam, major plot point in one sentence! I'm referring to the part with the four gentleman and the four girls (including Fantine) that went on and on and then we abruptly find out that Fantine is pregnant and disgraced....in one sentence. LOL!

  7. I listened to this years ago and agree with your thoughts... but I did love The Red Tent!

  8. I did love The Red Tent so much so that I'm afraid to read any of her other stuff!!!

  9. I can be counted among the fans of The Red Tent. I read it many years ago and, for whatever reason, never read anything else by Diamant although her book Day After Night is on my TBR.

    I'm so impressed you continued to listen to this audio when the book was still slow after 9 CDs. I don't mind slower books but have to be in the mood to read them. I like the way you describe the structure of this book, getting to know each character seperate from the others. I appreciate your honesty in reviewing this book and am glad to know there's no real plot so if I decide to read this, I won't be wondering when the story's going to start!
    Thanks, Lisa!