HOME TOWN by Tracy Kidder


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With stroke-by-stroke miniature portraits and incantatory prose, Pulitzer Prize winner Kidder beautifully limns the characters and values that shape one New England town. Northampton, Mass. (pop.: 30,000) is a postcard-perfect community dating back to the 17th century, with rustic farms, Smith College, and a trendy downtown. One-time residents such as Jonathan Edwards, Sojourner Truth, and Calvin Coolidge gave rise to a largely Yankee tradition of moral uplift. Newcomers—including immigrants, the homeless, students, lesbians, and small-fry criminals—have complicated this social fabric without tearing it. Within this small city, Kidder finds, is an inextricable web of relationships, held together by a “tradition of secularized virtue that fed on dreams of ideal places.” As with The Soul of a New Machine (1981), Among Schoolchildren (1989), and House (1985), Kidder focuses on representative individuals, including a compassionate judge, a female mayor fretting over her budget, a young single mother trying to support her son and survive Smith College, and a real estate lawyer returning to the world after suffering from obsessive/compulsive disorder. His main character, however, is Tommy O’Connor, a 33-year-old cop born and raised in the town he now patrols with tough love. Adhering to a simple but strong moral code and a fierce sense of place, Tommy faces two dilemmas that will define his future. First, will he testify against a fellow cop and lifelong friend up on child molestation charges? And will he leave the police department, the job he coveted since childhood, to join the FBI? Through these people, Kidder conveys the appeal of —a place with a life that shelters individual lives” and the longing to escape its smothering embrace. A microcosm of how the traditional American “city on a hill” looks near the year 2000—all rendered in a classically graceful style as good as it gets. (First printing of 100,000; first serial to the Atlantic Monthly; Book-of-the-Month Club selection; author tour)

Pub Date: May 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-679-45588-4
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1999


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