Random House | Penguin Random House
Mark Firth is a contractor and home restorer in Howland, Massachusetts, who feels opportunity passing his family by. After being swindled by a financial advisor, what future can Mark promise his wife, Karen, and their young daughter, Haley? He finds himself envying the wealthy weekenders in his community whose houses sit empty all winter.
Philip Hadi used to be one of these people. But in the nervous days after 9/11 he flees New York and hires Mark to turn his Howland home into a year-round “secure location” from which he can manage billions of dollars of other people’s money. The collision of these two men’s very different worlds—rural vs. urban, middle class vs. wealthy—is the engine of Jonathan Dee’s powerful new novel.
Inspired by Hadi, Mark looks around for a surefire investment: the mid-decade housing boom. Over Karen’s objections, and teaming up with his troubled brother, Gerry, Mark starts buying up local property with cheap debt. Then the town’s first selectman dies suddenly, and Hadi volunteers for office. He soon begins subtly transforming Howland in his image—with unexpected results for Mark and his extended family.
Here are the dramas of twenty-first-century America—rising inequality, working class decline, a new authoritarianism—played out in the classic setting of some of our greatest novels: the small town. “The Locals” is that rare work of fiction capable of capturing a fraught American moment in real time.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jonathan Dee is the author of six previous novels, most recently “A Thousand Pardons.” His novel “The Privileges” was a finalist for the 2011 Pulitzer Prize and winner of the 2011 Prix Fitzgerald and the St. Francis College Literary Prize. A former contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine, a senior editor of The Paris Review, and a National Magazine Award-nominated literary critic for Harper’s, he has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. He lives in Syracuse, New York.
Q&A with Jonathan
Why did you write The Locals?
A novel is a form of inquiry, for the writer as much as for the reader. I wanted to try to figure out how certain ideas about governance, about social co-existence, previously considered radical — the dissolution of the safety net, say, or the notion that bigotry and racism are forms of religious freedom — have become, in this young century, mainstream American political discourse. The Locals is a sort of small-scale laboratory where I hoped I could re-create the conditions in which that remarkable shift toward distrust and institutional meanness took place.
What was the most challenging thing about writing this book?
Probably the attempt to stay in psychological contact with such a large cast of characters — many of whom never interact, even though they all live in or near the same small town — while still keeping the narrative itself moving forward.
How might fiction help us to explore contemporary issues?
The easy answer is “empathy.” But that empathetic response one hopes to spark in readers isn’t just a matter of recognizing the humanity in the social or political Other — it’s recognizing that otherness (that privilege, that suspicion, that irrationality, that fear) in yourself, recognizing your own complicity in phenomena of which you might consider yourself a devoted foe.
What book(s) have made you see the world differently? How?
Every good book makes me see the world a little differently, by permitting me to live vicariously, by artfully cajoling me to consider perspectives other than my own. But a recent list might include Zola’s Germinal, Jesmyn West’s Salvage the Bones, Karan Mahajan’s The Association of Small Bombs, Pankaj Mishra’s The Age of Anger, Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko…