New Hampshire? Weren’t we just in Massachusetts? If you’re confused as to how we got here, I can’t blame you–I haven’t gotten to New Hampshire officially yet. But a couple of recent books have taken place, at least in part, in New Hampshire and have had some great descriptions of the Granite State. It’s one of the side effects of New England states being so small–you’re bound to cross borders, even if it’s just in the landscape.
I’m reading my way across the USA–5 or so books from each state, with an emphasis on those where the setting is integral to the story or that have something to tell us about the history, geography or people of that state.
The first crossover happened with Time’s Betrayal by David Adams Cleveland. The book is set, initially, at a private boarding school in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts, but Cleveland notes several times that from the campus you can see Mount Monadnock, which is in southwestern New Hampshire. The distance is around 100 miles by the highway, and would be shorter as the crow flies, and surely visible on a clear day.
[He] had spared nothing for Winsted, hiring Frederick law Olmstead to lay out his school in a sweeping circular design, so as to embrace a view of quartz-shouldered Mount Monadnock, the nearby Naushon River, and an array of grand elms and oaks and onetime pastures, lovingly preserving the battered apple orchard as a memorial centerpiece.
I will probably finish this book and revisit Massachusetts to review it, but the reference was what made me think about the scale of landscape in a place like New England, made up of 6 states (Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island) in an area smaller than that of California.
Touch & Go by Lisa Gardner (2013) – I wasn’t really planning on reviewing this one, although Gardner lives in New Hampshire and does a good job with the setting. It’s a thriller, which isn’t really my favorite genre, and it includes a number of Alpha male-type characters, who generally make me uncomfortable at best or outright sickened at worst… and I realize I might be in the minority there, but… they are just not my type, for a variety of reasons, with the main one being that I find them extremely condescending. That said, this was a decent read, which entwined a number of twists that I guessed individually in a final reveal which was still entertaining. But I really enjoyed Gardner’s use of setting.
Basically, there were two New Hampshires. … The New Hampshire south of Concord served as a Boston suburb. The neighborhoods featured either 1950s ranch houses for the working class, or 1990s McMansions for the wealthy Boston executives. That New Hampshire … was entitled to a police force where multiple officers worked every shift, with backup never being more than a couple of minutes away, and each department boasting its very own collection of modern forensic tools to better facilitate criminal investigation. Then, there was the New Hampshire north of Concord. Where the remaining one-third of the state’s population sprawled helter-skelter over the remaining two-thirds of the state’s terrain. Where entire towns were too small to justify their own police force, and even the towns that did generally deployed one officer at a time, patrolling vast expanses of rural roads, woodland forests and lake borders all alone. Backup could be an easy thirty to sixty minutes away. And heaven help you if you had a complex investigation involving real forensic tools.
When I lived and worked in Massachusetts, I wasn’t in a league to have a weekend home anywhere, but it was very much part of the culture there–that many people had a second home, either on the coast (in Maine, or on Cape Cod, or the islands–Nantucket or Martha’s Vineyard) or in New Hampshire. The highest echelon probably had two–a summer home on the coast and a winter home in the mountains for skiing. One of my original picks for Massachusetts was The Locals by Jonathan Dee, which deals with this more in-depth (although from the perspective of the upper class New Yorkers who have homes in the Berkshires or Connecticut), including the duality of the towns left behind in the off-season.
And there was this, which I also remember from my time living there:
New Hampshire wasn’t a very big state as the crow flies. A dedicated driver could make it from the southernmost border with Massachusetts to the northernmost border with Canada in three and a half, four hours tops. Horizontal routes, however, were another matter entirely, thanks to the White Mountains. They jutted up like jagged teeth and bit their way through the middle of the state, forcing east-west roads to zigzag, stair step and generally give way before their greater might.
There weren’t a lot of pure landscape descriptions, and there wasn’t much about the local people, except in generalities–not surprising, given the premise of the book–but there were some good tidbits. Hopefully, when I actually cover New Hampshire I’ll find some great books to fill in the gaps!