A sidelong, inferential portrait of Mamet’s (The Cabin, 1992, etc.) Vermont hometown, with a spirited indictment of American political perfidy and cultural poverty.
“I see the romantic residue of Vermont humor, self-regard, circumspection, and patience; call it culture or philosophy, it is quite the most attractive thing,” writes Mamet. By these qualities, he measures Vermont against the greater America, where a “bloated plutocracy” runs a show of deceit, theft, whining, and international bullying. Vermont looks pretty good by comparison, though Mamet works toward this point only askance. The state’s values of common sense and intuition, thrift, directness, and self-sufficiency—no one cuts their food for them—are iconic and appealing, especially when delivered in Mamet’s clipped, no-flimflam voice. Of the human landscape: “Much of the charm of these houses lies in their rational situation, their active relationship with geography. They have the human beauty of an act of understanding, the beauty of a tool.” Of doing business: “There is, as part of the Mountain ethos, a clear line between sharp practice and fraud. One may embellish and distract, but one may not lie.” Vermont still values craft and skill, enjoys easy socializing, will only be dazzled by the new when it shows its stuff. Mamet worries that these bedrock attributes are being corrupted by an influx of year-round weekenders who don’t know any better than to track in the mud, among whom he counts himself in an act of excessive modesty—an act Vermonters would find disingenuous. The author hits his targets so surely, from politicians to bread-bakers, that his screed against computers feels out of place: “The computer is a solution to no known problem.” How about not having to retype the whole page? A Vermonter could appreciate that.
The National Geographic Directions series is proving to be a winner, not quaint but quirky. Mamet comes out swinging and singing, and the sense of place falls neatly in between. (Photographs)