In the immortal words of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, “And now, for something completely different!”
Indiana. The first things that come to my mind when I think of Indiana are the Indy 500 race, and the song “Gary, Indiana” from The Music Man. (Sorry! If it’s any consolation, it’s stuck in my head too, now.) But those both just seem like the kind of cliché that real Hoosiers must get sick of being known for.
The Other Blogger has already covered Indiana, and, although I really was interested in The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf, I’ve found several others that I’m excited about as well. Andrea also had some interesting comments about The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields, at first thinking there wasn’t much Indiana setting there, but later reflecting on the quarries in Indiana and the symbolism of Stone, both in the title and the story. Although I had a somewhat difficult time finding books set in Indiana that seemed to meet my criteria of really making the setting a vital part of the story, I think I’ve mostly managed it!
I had difficulty with a young adult or young reader’s pick for Indiana, and I’d be interested in hearing what books young people are reading in school as part of their state’s history curriculum. The Fault In Our Stars by John Green is supposedly set in Indiana, but I feel like that one was the kind of book that could really be set anywhere (and I’ve already read it). One that I considered was Honey by Sarah Weeks, which is set in Royal, Indiana (possibly based on real-life Royal Center), but, again, it seemed like a generic small town setting rather than Indiana being integral to the setting. I’m wondering if there’s a young adult or young reader’s book that takes place in Indianapolis with car racing and the Indy 500 as a backdrop. If you know of anything, please leave a comment!
We’ll see if my list changes, but for now, here are my picks for Indiana:
Bento Box in the Heartland: My Japanese Girlhood in Whitebread America by Linda Furiya (2006) – an immigrant-in-the-heartland story with an emphasis on food. The daughter of the only Asian family in her part of rural Indiana, Furiya grabs hold of food as integral to the cultural differences in her story, and includes family recipes in each chapter.
Raintree County by Ross Lockridge, Jr. (1948) – “Throughout a single day in 1892, John Shawnessy recalls the great moments of his lifefrom the love affairs of his youth in Indiana, to the battles of the Civil War, to the politics of the Gilded Age, to his homecoming as schoolteacher, husband, and father. Shawnessy is the epitome of the place and period in which he lives, a rural land of springlike women, shady gamblers, wandering vagabonds, and soapbox orators. Yet here on the banks of the Shawmucky River, which weaves its primitive course through Raintree County, Indiana, he also feels and obeys ancient rhythms. A number-one bestseller when it was first published in 1948, this powerful novel is a compelling vision of 19th-century America with timeless resonance.” (Excerpt from Goodreads) This one could be great, or could be a bust–it shows up on the Goodreads list of “Big, Fat Books Worth the Effort,” (along with Gone With the Wind and The Count of Monte Cristo), but is also on the list of “Most Difficult Books” (along with Ulysses and The Sound and the Fury). It was made into a movie in 1957, starring Elizabeth Taylor.
Murder in Burnt Orange by Jeanne M. Dams (2011) – The 7th and most recent in the Hilda Johansson series, this is a historical detective series featuring a Swedish immigrant in very early twentieth century (1905 for this installment) South Bend, Indiana. Although this is the 7th book in the series, the earlier books seem to be a bit difficult to get a hold of, so I’m hoping they are self-contained enough for me to not feel like I’m starting mid-way through. From what I’ve read, they feature a lot of historical information and are well-researched, so I’m looking forward to getting a real feel for the city and time period. UPDATE: Well, the historical setting was there, but other than a heat wave, a couple of street names, and brief mention of the river, there was almost nothing about the city. The book could have taken place pretty much anywhere. 2nd UPDATE: I also read Death In Lacquer Red by Jeanne M. Dams (1999), which is the first Hilda Johansson mystery, and it is much better in terms of getting a feel for South Bend and Indiana than Murder In Burnt Orange.
Hudson Lake by Laura Mazzuca Toops (2007) – This is another period piece, this time set in a resort town weekend getaway for Chicago gangsters and Jazz musicians in the 1920s. I’m a fan of that time period, and I’m sure that dynamic of Chicago getaway exists in that area of Indiana, along with the accompanying tensions, both cultural and racial. The book has pretty lukewarm ratings on Goodreads, but better reviews on Amazon, so we’ll give it a whirl and see what we think!
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler (2013) – This one is a bit of a mystery, in that many of the reviews refer to a big twist that they refuse to give away. It’s set in Bloomington, Indiana and Davis, California (at the University), but it sounds so intriguing that I’m going to include it, at least as an alternate if one of the books above doesn’t pan out. Honestly, I have no idea how integral either setting is to the story, but we’ll see. UPDATE: Well, I did read this, and the twist is a lot of fun; if at all possible, don’t let it be spoiled for you. However, neither of the settings were particularly integral to the storyline (Davis may have been more so because the vet school, but Indiana… not so much).