Realism of the Real

A century ago, the Kansas-born and Vermont-based writer Dorothy Canfield Fisher spoke of the importance of place, as well as of time, in the formation of a culture and in the shaping of individuals within a culture:

Some wise man has said that the date of a man’s life depends not on the calendar, but on the geographical position of his home. . . . In my own case, living on a side road on the flank of a mountain in Vermont, it goes without saying that I am living about fifty years ago.  We do things for ourselves.  That is the mark of a bygone generation.

These lines come to mind when reading Chilton Williamson’s new novel, which gets its cultural bearings, its contextual coordinates, from both the calendar and the geographical position of its setting.  Both are crucial.  We miss one or the other at our peril.

In calendar terms, the novel is set in the early 1990’s, a time that is further away from us than we care to realize.  Although many of us remember the early 90’s, we forget how long ago it was, not in terms of years, a quarter of a century being a mere stitch in time, but in terms of the seismic shift in cultural norms that the advent of the Internet has heralded.  In those days, long gone and well and truly buried by technological “progress,” people had time alone and were far less lonely; now they are never alone and are...

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