Inspired by the settlement of Dogtown, MA, Diamant reimagines the community of castoffs—widows, prostitutes, orphans, African-Americans and ne'er-do-wells—all eking out a harsh living in the barren terrain of Cape Ann. Black Ruth, the African woman who dresses like a man and works as a stonemason; Mrs. Stanley, who runs the local brothel, and Judy Rhines, an unmarried white woman whose lover Cornelius is a freed slave, are among Dogtown's inhabitants who are considered suspect—even witches—by outsiders. Shifting perspectives among the various residents (including the settlement's dogs, who provide comfort to the lonely), Diamant brings the period alive with domestic details and movingly evokes the surprising bonds the outcasts form in their dying days. This chronicle of a dwindling community strikes a consistently melancholy tone—readers in search of happy endings won't find any here—but Diamant renders these forgotten lives with imagination and sensitivity.
This book was a bit of a roadblock in my reading progress. It is not the type of book that you can tear through -- either because of ease of writing or edge of your seat action. It is a slow-placed book with lots of characters but little action. None of the characters are ever completely revealed and you are left with lots of unanswered questions. If you enjoy character studies and historical fiction, you will enjoy this book. If you don't ... well don't read this one!
Next up "Love, Rosie" by Cecelia Ahrens. It is a habit of mine to try balancing a heavier book with a lighter book (by content, not size).