Thursday, June 12, 2014

Northern Borders

If you haven't read anything by Howard Frank Mosher, don't wait too much longer. He's written a mix of novels and memoirs and they're all whimsical and wonderful in their own way. My favorites are the novels set in and around his own town up here in the northern woods of Vermont. In his books our own Northeast Kingdom becomes "Kingdom County" and names are changed in various ways, however the smoky do-it-my-own-way-or-be-damned flavor of the place and people is perfectly preserved. Maybe it takes a transplanted flatlander (someone not from Vermont) like Howard or like me to savor how different this place is from so much of the rest of our country, but year after year I continue to marvel at the way people do things up here. Reading about these people in Howard Mosher's books holds the pure delight of diving into the world of people who, viewed from a distance, inhabit a world of mystery and intrigue I will never fully understand. 

I chose Northern Borders to highlight here because I think it's my favorite of his books and it hasn't received the attention that some of his others have received. Several of them - including Where the Rivers Flow North and Disappearances - have been made into movies. Northern Borders, though, to me captures the essence of the place more deftly than any others. It's set largely on a dairy farm in the 50's, where a young boy goes to live with his grandparents and joins their life of ridiculously hard work blended with numerous small joys and deep pleasures. The story follows Austin Kittredge through his young adulthood as it simultaneously follows a tiny Vermont town that belatedly joins the mechanized world of modern America. (Though always at least a decade behind, as Vermonters have to be pried away from anything they're used to.)

And like any good story, it holds a central mystery that comes at you sideways and makes the whole story resonate with hidden meaning.  This is a fine sweet read that is worth savoring.