three-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
22-May-June-2006
user_rating: 
0

A-TheBestPeopleInTheWorldIn the early 1970s, 17-year-old Thomas falls in love with his 25-year-old history teacher, Alice. It’s no unrequited schoolboy crush. Along with Shiloh, an unconventional local, they leave Paducah, Kentucky, and light out for the Vermont mountains. In the Vermont spring, their love and friendships blossom, and their sense of freedom deepens as they settle into an abandoned house. Yet when winter comes, the reality of living off the land starts to take its toll, and the trio becomes desperate. When a visitor appears, he upsets their harmony and forces into the open the secrets and animosities lurking beneath their idyllic life.
HarperCollins. 336 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 0060815337

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"As dire as their external circumstances are, however, it is desolation of an emotional nature that permeates the novel, which is written so beautifully as to make the reader forget that for chunks of the narrative, nothing happens. … Much of the book’s action takes place inside his adolescent heart, which he remembers in retrospect from the vantage of the man he becomes." Jessica Treadway

Chicago Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"Some of the stories embedded in this enthusiastic debut novel are funny, some are strange, some are inconclusive, and some throw sparks of magic. … Though the priests appear only five times in the book, their examination of miracles provides much of the novel’s dramatic tension." Alyson Hagy

Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel 3 of 5 Stars
"It falls into the literary region somewhere between great works and awful ones." Claude R. Marx

NY Times Book Review 2.5 of 5 Stars
"This is an American tale, a very American tale. You don’t name a character Shiloh and send him shopping at a Ben Franklin unless you mean to conjure, farcically and in miniature, Mythic America with a capital M. … At his best, Tussing is a kind of Wacko-Thoreau, and The Best People in the World is one bright book of exuberant American life." Dan Chiasson

Rocky Mountain News 2.5 of 5 Stars
"This inventive but flawed slice of gothic Americana begins with an imaginative flourish but is ultimately unable to sustain its interesting premise." Clayton Moore

Washington Post 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Tussing is a witty, affecting writer with a melancholy streak and a determination not to give too much away. … The whole plot finally descends into a kinder, gentler version of Sam Shepard’s Buried Child—a gothic tragedy seen through the scrim of Tussing’s lovely, if slightly overwrought prose." Ron Charles

Critical Summary

Tussing, who published a preview of this novel in the New Yorker, offers a melancholic slice of the American mythos that reflects its ideals and tarnished realities. Loving characters, including a narrator looking back on his experiences and emotions, populate the novel, but others, including two priests investigating miracles, left some critics wondering. Best People paints a wonderful canvas of 1970s America, both from the vantage point of the road and an isolated Vermont life, though little actually happens. Despite the imaginative, beautiful writing, this debut novel doesn’t perfectly fulfill its promise. The New York Times Book Review sums up the general sentiment by describing the novel as "[e]qual parts euphoria and exhaustion."