Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Review: The Last Days of Dogtown by Anita Diamant

There was an old colonial settlement on Cape Ann, Massachusetts between Rockport & Gloucester. It was a place that was  filled with huge boulders left from a melting glacier thousands of years before. Not quite good farm land but developed just far enough away from the shore to discourage pirates and invading armies. The little community was filled with people of prominence and prosperity but after the war of 1812, the people of this community felt safe enough to move to the shore ( Gloucester) and left empty homes & buildings. These buildings were were soon inhabited by vagrants, widows, freed slaves & "witches" ! The widows of fishermen and military men kept plenty of dogs around for protection. Hence, the name Dogtown. It is also noted that many upstanding folks from the area felt that the vagrants lived life like dogs. These people of Dogtown scraped by with very little money, barely any food and very little heat in winter.
This novel is the fictional story of the lives of these people of Dogtown. Judy Rhines lived in Dogtown and took in sewing. She also had a little garden to grow veggies so she wouldn't starve . Meat mostly consisted of squirrel and other small creatures and there was always fish to be caught. Judy is maybe what you would call the main character in the book, although there are plenty others in Dogtown. Judy was  good soul and many peole came to her for help.  Judy also had a secret love. Easter Carter ran a pub in Dogtown. She was a good friend of Judy Rhines and another of the good people of Dogtown. There was brothel too, run by Mrs. Stanley.  Stanwood was a guy you didn't really want to mess with. A mean drunk and frequent visitor to Mrs. Stanley.
This book tells the tale of the lives that were lived and the people that died in Dogtown, right down to the very last person to live there , Cornelius Finson.
I must tell you, I lived in Gloucester for a few years and never heard the mention of Dogtown. I understand that many years after the demise of  Dogtown, Roger Babson, whose family owned the land, turned it over to the state so that now there rests a park. He also commissioned out of work stonecutters to engrave inspirational messages on some of the boulders. I understand that the cellars of the houses, which are now called cellar holes are all numbered with engraved boulders so that hikers can get a feel for the history of the area.
I highly recommend this book. I could not put it down . Anita Diamant also wrote another book that I highly recommend called The Red Tent. Excellent reading. I  have just downloaded a sample of another one of her books
called Good Harbor. Good Harbor is a beach in Gloucester, so I am anxious to get reading another great novel.

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