Since her astonishing debut, "The Beans of Egypt, Maine," best-selling novelist Carolyn Chute has been heralded as a passionate voice of the underclass, earning comparisons to Faulkner, Steinbeck, and Flannery O'Connor. Her first novel in ten years returns to Egypt, and is a rousing, politically charged portrait of a group of lives on the margins ...
Since her astonishing debut, "The Beans of Egypt, Maine," best-selling novelist Carolyn Chute has been heralded as a passionate voice of the underclass, earning comparisons to Faulkner, Steinbeck, and Flannery O'Connor. Her first novel in ten years returns to Egypt, and is a rousing, politically charged portrait of a group of lives on the margins of our society. "The School on Heart's Content Road" spirals out from the story of Mickey Gammon, a fifteen-year-old dropout who has been evicted from his home and introduced to the secretive world of the Settlement. Run by "The Prophet," the Settlement is a rural cooperative in alternative energy, farm produce, and locally made goods. Falsely demonized by the media as a compound of sin, the Settlement's true nature remains foreign to outsiders. It is there that Mickey meets another deserted child, six-year-old Jane, whose mother is in jail on trumped-up drug charges. "Secret Agent" Jane cunningly prowls the Settlement in her heart-shaped sunglasses, imagining that her plans to bring down the community will reunite her with her mother. As they struggle to adjust to their new, complex surrogate family, Mickey and Jane witness the mounting unrest within the Settlement's ranks, which soon builds to a shocking and devastating crescendo.
For fans of Carolyn Chute, this book further broadens the community of Egypt ME - away from the tourist haunts of the coast - with its amazing cast of characters and the complicated intertwining of dependence, hope and mistrust that ties them together. I recommend that a first time reader of Chute's work begin with "The Beans of Eygpt, Maine" or "Letourneau's Used Auto Parts" before reading this book, if only as an introduction to the community.
"School on Hearts Content Road" is a worthy effort by Chute and comes very close to her grand book "Merry Men". Chute's ability as a story teller and the authenticity of her voice is in evidence in this fine book. I rate this book as 4 stars only because I felt let down by her final resolution. "School" is an ambitious book that builds characters and drama to a fevered pitch, only to fly out of control leaving the author with a conclusion that has the finality of pick-up sticks.
Fans of Chute's work will enjoy this book despite the conclusion. Perhaps it is our job as readers to work with the author in creating a more suitable ending to the chaos of the final pages; or perhaps this is Chute's ultimate message.
Publishers Weekly, 2008-09-08 Chute, author of the acclaimed The Beans of Egypt, Maine, returns to Egypt with an emotional but uneven novel portraying the St. Onge Settlement, a rural co-op community led by the mythic, flawed, Gordon St. Onge, hero of the downtrodden who people the Settlement along with Gordon's wives and children. Through her distinctive, muscular prose and vivid depictions of Maine's resilient residents, Chute revisits familiar themes: the government's injustices toward the poor, restrictive gun legislation, faults in the education system and the evils of corporations. The novel also defends and demystifies the militia movement (Chute is involved with the 2nd Maine Militia, a grassroots organization advocating for the working class). The narrative, fractured with a multitude of perspectives, jumps between Gordon, Richard "Rex" York, head of the local militia, and Settlement kids Mickey Gammon, 15, and precocious six-year-old Jane Meserve, whose mother is incarcerated on spurious drug charges. By turns inspiring, then preachy, Chute, who in the acknowledgments says there are five completed novels about the Settlement, which might explain the unresolved story lines, has an undeniable talent for depicting humanity at its most impassioned and impoverished. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
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