three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
20-Jan-Feb-2006
user_rating: 
0

A-LastDaysDogtownDogtown, a dying place of castaways, tells its stories in dwindling funerals. In a raggedy, gray 19th-century dwelling north of Boston, the residents and stray dogs cling to Cape Ann, spurned by other towns as witches and waywards and nursing their dark secrets. Oliver, the persecuted orphan, lives under the tyranny of his Aunt Tammy and her bordello, where forlorn prostitutes find comfort in each other. Black Ruth, an African woman, makes ends meet by dressing and working as a male stonemason. And the lost spinster Judy finds love and loss in Cornelius, a grim African freedman. The book forms a ballad sung amid the boulders of the Atlantic coast, among a hodgepodge of a community that lives in absurdity, desperation, and love—and slowly dies the same way. For the "death of a village, even one as poor and small as Dogtown, is not an altogether trivial thing."
Scribner. 263 pages. $25. ISBN: 0743225732

Miami Herald 4 of 5 Stars
"As with The Red Tent, Diamant captures with imagination and credibility the people of a unique place and time. In casting her own spell over the Dogtowners, Diamant offers her readers the opportunity to appreciate the humanity that transcends both." Amy Canfield

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"[A] lovely and moving portrait of society’s outcasts living in an unforgiving and barren but harshly beautiful landscape." Chelsea Cain

St. Louis Post-Dispatch 4 of 5 Stars
"The book is haunting, partly because of Diamant’s lyrical language and partly because of the townspeople that she creates. … Diamant’s one weakness is that she ascribes a set of characteristics to each person in the book, and then each time that person shows up, Diamant insists on reminding the reader of those characteristics." Patricia Corrigan

Denver Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The Last Days of Dogtown is not a work likely to leave you feeling uplifted or proud. You may feel, instead, like you’ve spent hours peeping through the open window of human desperation. But you will be glad, once you close the book, to be living in a different, more forgiving place and time." Kelly Milner Halls

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"[W]hat she has created—as she did in her bestselling first novel, The Red Tent—is the overlay of a modern sensibility on an imagined past. … Diamant’s descriptive passages are as eloquent as a Congregationalist hymn … and her theme—that life teems even as it dwindles—has all the more power for its subtle, unsentimental articulation." Donna Rifkind

San Francisco Chronicle 2.5 of 5 Stars
"There is much of value in Diamant’s latest offering, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that we’ve seen all this before—the tragic characters and weepy scenes feel stale even as they still manage to provoke a tear or two. The Last Days of Dogtown is a quick, entertaining, even educational read, but not much new is provided here." Summer Block

Critical Summary

In The Last Days of Dogtown, Diamant paints a vivid and gripping historical setting as she delves into a lost crevice of human drama in 19th-century Massachusetts and renders it with a modern slickness. There are no novel revelations about love, however. Instead, she takes us alongside the drunkards, whores, and witches (the strongest character is Black Ruth, who rarely speaks), and, in the end, she evokes the tragic silliness of humanity in the grays and pale sunshine of Cape Ann.