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IDYLL BANTER by Chris Bohjalian

IDYLL BANTER

Weekly Excursions to a Very Small Town

By Chris Bohjalian

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 2003
ISBN: 1-4000-5215-7
Publisher: Harmony

Ten years of insubstantial newspaper columns about life in small-town Vermont.

In 1992, after six years of living in Lincoln, a burg of fewer than a thousand souls near Burlington, novelist Bohjalian (The Buffalo Soldier, 2002, etc.) was asked to write a column for the Burlington Free Press to be called “Idyll Banter.” These short rural portraits were pegged to make residents and visitors alike “smile,” which they do, with Bohjalian working the sentimental angle with gusto, though rarely rising above the quaint. He offers good words on kinship and the complexity of blood networks, on tolerance of eccentricity and “glorification of neighborliness for the simple reason it is easier to be civil than ornery when on any given day you're likely to run into someone at the library, the post office, or while watching the annual outhouse races.” He writes about the physics of deep snow on a rooftop, about the local river breaching its banks and flooding the library, and about carpets of dead cluster flies (a perennial favorite). He chronicles a six-mile, snow-driven horseback ride 50 years ago to deliver a letter to a family awaiting news of their son during WWII. Nor does he neglect bats decomposing inside wood stoves, road kill, schoolchildren visiting the graveyard on Memorial Day, or small-town events. What the author fails to provide is the sap of these doings, the drama of the quotidian; we get the foam off his evaporator, not the syrup. Bohjalian might make you smile and occasionally think about just why autumn is so phantasmagoric in Vermont or why farms are vanishing, but his offerings rarely fill the belly. His work pales in comparison with fellow Vermont essayists Noel Perrin and Don Mitchell, who work within the same columnist’s compression yet find both song and pith.

Little style or substance.