Place has a deep effect on people and their lives. In the same way, a region’s landscape, weather, and culture play an important role in shaping fictional characters and plots. A sense of place is what I enjoy most about southern novels – maybe because I’m from New England. To Kill a Mockingbird gets top honors, but I also love books by Eudora Welty and, more recently The Help, by Kathryn Stockett. The sweet, heavy air, the draping Spanish moss, the language, and the history provide a uniquely southern landscape that shapes these uniquely southern tales. The atmosphere that Harper Lee creates in To Kill a Mockingbird is so vivid I can easily picture myself seated in a rocker on Atticus Finch’s front porch on a hot summer day, a tall glass of iced tea by my side, as Scout’s story unspools around me.
One can just as happily read in an Adirondack chair on the lawn of an inn on the Maine coast, where my novel LITTLE ISLAND is set, but one might well be wearing fleece and cradling a cup of hot chocolate, even in July. The weather in Maine is challenging and unpredictable; fog rolls in without warning, blanketing and blurring the landscape; the tides rise and fall dramatically; the shoreline is rock-bound.
LITTLE ISLAND is the story of four generations who gather on their small island in Maine for a memorial service. Each family member arrives with lots of baggage – and this is in addition to their luggage. The clan’s matriarch is grieving her recently deceased mother; her husband has foibles and impending frailties; her older daughter is a new empty nester, unsure what to do with the rest of her life now that her son has gone to college; her younger daughter, is self-absorbed, controlling, and seriously lacking in parenting skills; and her son is a lovable screw-up with substance abuse issues. The changeable weather, the rocky shore, and the dramatic tides all play a role in shaping the events of the weekend as family members resume their roles, old resentments emerge, and long-held secrets are revealed. Were I to move LITTLE ISLAND to Savannah or Miami, it would become a very different story. The social mores, the architecture, and the climate would all insist.
Where are your favorite novels set, and why? Writing is often a solitary endeavor, as is reading, but stories are meant to be shared. So I hope you’ll leave a comment below. (And, if you read LITTLE ISLAND, please get in touch and let me know what you think.) Thanks!