There’s a lot of charm, and very little structure, to this flavorful tale of life in rural Massachusetts, from the former governor of that state (1991–97) and author of Big Ugly (1999), etc.
The story’s set in 1938, when the five towns of the Swift River Valley in eastern Massachusetts are scheduled to be flooded in order to create a 35-mile-long reservoir (this really happened: the result is the Quabbin Dam). Fifteen-year-old Jamieson Kooby, our narrator, is a de facto orphan who lives with his widowed Grandmother Hardiman, a feisty Yankee who’s “as close to an intellectual, or a bluestocking as … [anybody] in the Valley.” The impending loss of homes and farmlands is particularly galling to Jamieson, a Tom Sawyer–like country boy who does his growing up in the agreeable company of his best pal Caleb Durand, an unusual and abstracted girl named Hannah Corkery who resides at the local “poor farm,” and such interesting neighbors as goodhearted transient Hammy the Hobo and laconic Doc Crocker. Stillwater is actually two novels (one wonders if it’s Weld’s first): an episodic chronicle of country folkways and adolescent adventuring (complete with First Sexual Experience and discovery of the adult world’s hypocrisy), and a very casually plotted melodrama (which doesn’t pick up much steam until the midway point) about the Valley folks’ gritty resistance to the machinations of kickback-taking slimeballs (oily Lawyer Kincaid) and fast-talking defenders of the powers-that-be (smarmy Preacher Moncrieff). Weld does have a potentially terrific dramatic figure in the remote, enigmatic Hannah (who communes regularly with ghosts of the Valley’s former inhabitants), but he doesn’t give her nearly enough to do.
Echoes aplenty of both Mark Twain and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, but still, a very capably told, quite entertaining tale.