Letters

Letters 07-27-2015

Next For Brownfields In regard to your recent piece on brownfield redevelopment in TC, the Randolph Street project appears to be proceeding without receiving its requested $600k in brownfield funding from the county. In response to this, the mayor is quoted as saying that the developer bought the property prior to performing an environmental assessment and had little choice but to now build it...

Defending Our Freedom This is in response to Sally MacFarlane Neal’s recent letter, “War Machines for Family Entertainment.” Wake Up! Make no mistake about it, we are at war! Even though the idiot we have for a president won’t accept the fact because he believes we can negotiate with Iran, etc., ISIS and their like make it very clear they intend to destroy the free world as we know it. If you take notice of the way are constantly destroying their own people, is that living...

What Is Far Left? Columnist Steve Tuttle, who so many lambaste as a liberal, considers Sen. Sanders a far out liberal “nearly invisible from the middle.” Has the middle really shifted that far right? Sanders has opposed endless war and the Patriot Act. Does Mr. Tuttle believe most of our citizens praise our wars and the positive results we have achieved from them? Is supporting endless war or giving up our civil liberties middle of the road...

Parking Corrected Stephen Tuttle commented on parking in the July 13 Northern Express. As Director of the Traverse City Downtown Development Authority, I feel compelled to address a couple key issues. But first, I acknowledge that  there is some consternation about parking downtown. As more people come downtown served by less parking, the pressure on what parking we have increases. Downtown serves a county with a population of 90,000 and plays host to over three million visitors annually...

Home · Articles · News · Books · Life in a Small, Superior Town
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Life in a Small, Superior Town

Elizabeth Kane Buzzelli - June 27th, 2011
Life in a Small, Superior Town
By Elizabeth Kane Buzzelli
South of Superior 
By Ellen Airgood
Riverhead Books/Penguin Group
$25.95
As small towns go, McAllaster, Michigan, isn’t much.  Typical UP town.  It’s got plain people, a lot of characters, a few newbies out to change a culture in place for a few hundred years, and some who just want to fit in.  This town’s got elderly sisters and down-at-the-heels oldsters who live off the land.  It’s got struggling businesses, and people with hope, and those without hope.  Everything small town’s have is here in McAllaster, the centerpiece of a first novel by Ellen Airgood, who runs a diner in Grand Marais, and captures people, places, life, and small stories writ large in “South of Superior.”
Change is coming to McAllaster.  It comes in through the Bensons who buy the grocery store and cut off credit to people who’ve had an ‘arrangement’ with the store since they first got credit.  It comes through others with pretensions, trying to do away with those eyesores out near the highway.  You’ve seen them: rusting truck in the yard, at least one car up on blocks, and the old sofa sagging on the porch.  Change comes in through Madeline Stone, a 33-year-old wannabe painter, who leaves Chicago to avoid a marriage that didn’t seem right to come to McAllaster to care for an elderly woman entwined with the family Madeline never knew.  

ANGER TOO
The change in Madeline Stone’s life comes with a lot of anger—Madeline’s mother abandoned her as a young child and her grandfather, Joe, alive in the UP, didn’t want her though no one in McAllaster wants to talk about her past.  In change comes through dreams of making a living in this small town, among these people slow to accept anything new, in this tiny place on the shores of Lake Superior.  
Madeleine, a Chicago waitress with an old car that barely runs and a stack of questions for people in her family, arrives in McAllaster on a sleety night.  From her first look at the town, something stirs in her:  The town sat at the base of a steep hill at the edge of the water, a lovely collection of buildings she could take in all in one glance from this distance.  Huddled under the sleet that had been falling for hours, it looked stark and desolate.  And beautiful.
It’s the beautiful part that grabs her first.  And then Arbutus and Gladys, elderly sisters caught in a trap of no money to help themselves until they decide to let loose of things holding them to a past slowly strangling them.  There is Mary, a very old woman who lives in a couple of clabbered together sheds, and Emil, the town alcoholic and hunter and firewood provider.   In the way of human beings, everybody’s got a story that entwines with other stories until the end, or at least change, comes about.
This is Ellen Airgood’s first novel and what an accomplishment it is.  Much like her autobiography, she faces the lives of her characters straight on.  Airgood says her philosophy about life and people is that life is “a big, hard, wonderful mess -- an amazing ride: that we’re meant to savor at every turn.” 
Airgood tells about visiting Grand Marais with her sister when she was 25 years old and falling in love with the owner of the local diner.  That was it.  She moved north and has waitressed for the last 20 years in her now husband’s diner.  “My husband Rick and I run the diner together . . . Most of what I know about maturity and compassion, not to mention story, I’ve learned from waiting tables.  We work 80 to 100 hours a week almost year round.  We’ve been faced with a constant barrage of setbacks and frustrations and equipment failures.”
Yet she found time to write.

TWIST OF FATE
On writing this novel, she says, “I didn’t get an MFA or study writing in school.  I could have learned about life anywhere, but fate brought me here, to the end of the earth and a tiny town that time forgot.”
Her ear for the northern voice is perfect; her humanity—looking at people caught in time and place—refreshing.  This is a fine Michigan novelist at the beginning of her career.  The waitressing, learning life’s lessons every day, will keep her voice authentic and individual.  She’s a writer much like Ann Tyler, with a kind of Hardyesque knowledge of place.   Airgood pulls off what could be dull stuff—small town secrets and battles; a bunch of old timers; forgiveness of the worst sinners among them—and makes it all into a story impossible to put down.  Even after finishing the book, the characters haunted me as if they’d taken on separate lives in my head where I keep Tess of the D’Urbervilles, The Beans of Egypt, Maine, and just about all of Ann Tyler’s people.
The stories reveal lost loves and found loves and new loves at every age.  It’s a story of digging to find out who you really are and where you belong and of forgiving just about everybody—eventually.  It is truly a Michigan story.  Madeleine eventually takes on the old hotel in town, sinks all she’s got into it, and ends with a lot of hope, very little money, but a circle of family and friends she would never have found anywhere else.
South of Superior is the kind of book you want to curl up with and sink into.  It unravels slowly—character by character, event by event.  Nothing in here is earth shaking or deeply revealing.  This is about real people—individuals, who find their worth in what they believe, how they take on the world.

Elizabeth Kane Buzzelli’s fourth novel in the Emily Kincaid mystery series, “Dead Dogs and Englishmen,” comes out from Midnight Ink Books in July.  She’s inviting everyone to come celebrate the launch of the new book on Friday, July 22, 6:30 pm, Brilliant Books in Sutton’s Bay. 


 
 
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