Well, I was born in a small town
And I live in a small town
Probably die in a small town
Oh, those small communities. John Mellencamp, American rocker
Some books are a delightful dream. Take Martin Walker’s The Dark Vineyard, for example. The food, the cadence of rural French life, the unfolding of a justice that is more biblical than judicial is something worth savoring. I’ve tucked the book into my purse twice in the last two days, taking advantage of appointments that have required long-and-rather-pleasant waits.
Bruno, Walker’s police chief protagonist, finesses his community of about 3,000 into a semblance of law and order — tipping off the mostly innocent here, tracking a misguided culprit there. Through it all, the young bachelor’s love of community shines through. Bruno loves Saint-Denis. He doesn’t want anything bad to happen in this place, his place.
I love fiction like this, a story with a strong sense of where one is. Walker’s books are especially good at providing it. Alexander McCall Smith’s work does, as well, particularly his books about Botswana (No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series) and Scotland (Sunday Philosophy Club series). They are not alone, even outside their venue. John Mellencamp, American rocker, plumbs place in many of his songs, particularly the one quoted above.
Mellencamp’s place is, oddly enough, one that I actually know, having lived there for four years myself. Bloomington, Ind., is a place of euchre games, red creme soda, fleets of earnest young men training for bike races, and old-school politeness. It is a place of deep front porches and quiet neighborhoods where a college girl can run in such safety that she can simultaneously conjugate Spanish verbs and wonder if she will ever live in an old house with windows that glow warm and yellow against the dusk.
Bloomington and Saint-Denis and the many, many small towns like them are places to dream and to breathe free. That is why we love them, even if we live in a tiny New York City apartment or in a suburb designed with nothing but commuter convenience in mind. That is why more and more of us are choosing to live in them, as well. Look around. Yes, there is still urban allure, but urban costs, crime and crowding are causing a backlash boom in small-town living.
Only the children of our household were born in small towns, but we live in a small town and will probably die in one, as well. In an old house with windows that inspire young passersby to dream small-yet-wonderful dreams.