One of my many soft spots is for towns and villages that have ceased to exist — the resettled Newfoundland outports, the “ghost towns”, the places that time passed by. (I cried during Cars when they played the song “Our Town” over the montage showing the decline of the town. I cry at Springsteen’s My Hometown). I thought I might cry over The Last Days of Dogtown, Diamant’s novel about a dying New England town and the last residents who cling to the place.
Set in the early 1800s, The Last Days of Dogtown is not really a novel as much as a collection of linked short stories. No single narrative drive moves the book forward; instead we are introduced to a motley crew of desperate and eccentric characters — some who live on in Dogtown, some who leave it for more up-and-coming places but retain some of the town’s spirit in them.
At first I thought the cast of characters was too eccentric, and their fates too depressing, for me to become really engaged with the book. However, as it went on, I found that the book, and its characters, grew on me. I did care about them and was happy to see that some, at least, found happy endings. What didn’t become real for me was the fate of Dogtown itself — perhaps because there was no glimpse of what it might have been like as a living, thriving community. Diamant’s book honours the passing of a town — Dogtown was, in fact, a real place, though Diamant’s stories of its residents are more imagination than history — but, for me, failed to make that passing genuinely moving. Which is to say, I didn’t cry.