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From Vermont, via New York

Posted by Jim Concannon  February 20, 2009 03:41 PM

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Chris Bohjalian is a novelist who lives in Vermont, though that doesn't mean he's a Vermont novelist. Bohjalian moved to the Green Mountain State from New York City 23 years ago, but in some upcountry New England towns that's just long enough to finally merit a nod of recognition from neighbors at the post office.
In addition, the themes that shape his 11 novels contain more sweep than a provincial grounding would allow. "Midwives," his top-selling novel and an Oprah Book Club pick, delved into the workings of traditional rural medicine, but its core focused on morality, responsibility, and the law. In other novels, Bohjalian has written about foster families, transgender issues, and deadly accidents. His latest, "Skeletons at the Feast," is his furthest afield yet, the story of a German refugee family near the end of World War II. Bohjalian sees it as the start of a trilogy.
Still, his home state does provide a creative undercurrent. "Novelists talk with an agonizing amount of hubris about how they found their voice,'' he told an interviewer. "The reality, however, is that I did indeed find mine in Vermont. Vermont is a fascinating microcosm for issues that have relevance everywhere -- the environment vs. development, alternative vs. traditional medicine, all the baggage that we bring to gender and sexual orientation -- and it is so small that it is possible to bring these issues to life on a scale that is human, recognizable and profoundly accessible."
Bohjalian also plugs into Vermont in an unusual way for a novelist, as a weekly columnist for the Burlington Free Press. (His last was a charming tale of how he and his wife celebrate Groundhog Day annually rather than Valentine's Day, because Feb. 2 is when they met. Besides, he adds, that way they get decent restaurant tables.) Bohjalian heads down I-89 to discuss his writing this Saturday, Feb. 21, at 2 p.m., at the Wellesley Free Library, 530 Washington St.

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