Jason Brown’s short story collection, Why the Devil Chose New England for His Work — chilling, outstanding, November of mood — takes place in a fictional Maine town called Vaughn. And this is not the Maine of lobster and lighthouses. This is no Vacationland. His characters — loggers, drinkers, jealous siblings, high schoolers, angry widows, trapped humans of all sorts — circle around the town, but cannot quite escape. Small-town secrets, gossip, multi-generational shame follow and haunt these people, set against the swift rivers and dark woods which Brown evokes with reverence.
Brown was late to Brookline Booksmith on Wednesday night, driving down from his native Maine, not having negotiated Boston streets in eighteen years, he told us. Boyish, round of face, strong of forearm, he wore a brown T-shirt with a red squirrel on it holding a butcher knife (a gift from his wife, he explained: “she thought it captured my personality”). He talked about growing up near the Kennebec River, about how loggers, as they used to exist, were the toughest people to ever live, and he read his story “River Runner,” which, at first read, was not one of my favorites of the collection. But hearing Brown read it — the dialogue, the cadences, the movement of the river and the story and the shifting split between “dying to get home and dying to get back again” — changed my perception, added to its depth and force.
This collection is remarkable, haunting and sinister and human and so much of a place.
Listen to Jason Brown read “River Runner” here (plus a brief Q&A).
DOWNLOAD: Jason Brown, Why the Devil Chose New England for His Work (Live at Brookline Booksmith) [mp3]