It’s Thursday again and time for the Columbia Spectator’s continuing series on “a list of 50 books that we think capture the essence of each state, all while telling a great story along the way.”
First, a quick review of the states tackled thus far… Not surprisingly, To Kill A Mockingbird best represents Alabama. Michigan‘s mouthpiece was Jeffrey Eugenides (and I thought Middlesex would’ve have been a better choice than The Virgin Suicides). North Dakota‘s pick was Peace Like A River by Leif Enger, Alaska‘s was a collection of short stories by Nancy Lord entitled The Man Who Swam With Beavers, and Heads by Harry by Lois-ann Yamanaka, the first selection I had yet to read, represented Hawaii. Last week’s pick — Barbara Kingsolver‘s The Bean Trees — best illustrates Arizona.
This week I am confronted by an unfamiliar name — Donna Tartt — so here are Melanie Jones’ reasons why this author best represents the beautiful state of Vermont:
Donna Tartt’s The Secret History is many things: psychological thriller, coming-of-age story, radical philosophical commentary. Set predominantly at the fictional Hampden College in Vermont, the novel is a portrait of a frosted, New England beauty that is at once classical and distant.
Richard Papen escapes to Hampden from the concrete wastelands of Plano, California and is soon handpicked by a charismatic professor to join his group of eccentric, brilliant misfits, all of whom seek to use classical works to delve into new worlds and transcend the dull lives of their peers. As he is drawn further into his new friends’ lives, Richard finds himself slipping further and further away from conventional morality, and on one fatal night he is plunged into an atmosphere of betrayal, corruption, and murder.
Richard’s friends have an old-world allure and possess a “cruel mannered charm” which, far from natural, “gave every indication of being cultivated.” They are cultured and restrained, beautiful, sometimes terrible, and their sensibilities—not to mention their loveliness—is echoed in Hampden itself.
In The Secret History, fall brings the smell of “apples rotting on the ground,” of spider webs whose dew gathers “in beads so that it glistened like white frost.” Winter finds the students huddled around the common room fire, barren willows tapping their “skeleton fingers” against the pane, and martins crying in the eves while mallards sob harsh, lonely chords across a steely lake. It is little wonder that Richard is so bewitched by the town’s austere beauty, and readers can expect to be, as well.
Intrigued? I know I am… And the capitol? Montpelier — the nation’s smallest state capitol!