Idyll Banter: Weekly Excursions to a Very Small Town – Chris Bohjalian, 2003

Bohjalian, best-known as a novelist, has also spent more than a decade chronicling life in Lincoln, Vermont, a town of 975 inhabitants. This book collects dozens of his newspaper columns, dealing with country house joys and problems, changes good and bad, being a dad and a husband, spirituality, the seasons, and much more. He’s a good writer, and often the stories he tells are funny or touching, but there’s sometimes that journalistic lunge for a pat phrase or too-cute anecdote. It’s a kind of self-consciousness I associate with Andy Rooney-style musings.

The most gripping piece is the last one, which is the only fiction in the book, about a dad unreasonably worrying as he waits for his young daughter outside a Disney World ladies’ room. Bohjalian says he included it because it captures how he felt in a similar situation, but it’s interesting to me that only this fictional piece feels truly immediate and keenly observed. Is it that in fiction, he’s inhabiting his characters, and in the bulk of these essays he’s seeing them from the outside (even when he is one of them)? A good novelist isn’t necessarily a good essayist, and vice versa. But I don’t want to sound too negative–it’s a very enjoyable book, even if it doesn’t quite live up to its potential.

One thought on “Idyll Banter: Weekly Excursions to a Very Small Town – Chris Bohjalian, 2003

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