Letters

Letters 05-23-2016

Examine The Priorities Are you disgusted about closing schools, crumbling roads and bridges, and cuts everywhere? Investigate funding priorities of legislators. In 1985 at the request of President Reagan, Grover Norquist founded Americans for Tax Reform (ATR). For 30 years Norquist asked every federal and state candidate and incumbent to sign the pledge to vote against any increase in taxes. The cost of living has risen significantly since 1985; think houses, cars, health care, college, etc...

Make TC A Community For Children Let’s be that town that invests in children actively getting themselves to school in all of our neighborhoods. Let’s be that town that supports active, healthy, ready-to-learn children in all of our neighborhoods...

Where Are Real Christian Politicians? As a practicing Christian, I was very disappointed with the Rev. Dr. William C. Myers statements concerning the current presidential primaries (May 8). Instead of using the opportunity to share the message of Christ, he focused on Old Testament prophecies. Christ gave us a new commandment: to love one another...

Not A Great Plant Pick As outreach specialist for the Northwest Michigan Invasive Species Network and a citizen concerned about the health of our region’s natural areas, I was disappointed by the recent “Listen to the Local Experts” feature. When asked for their “best native plant pick,” three of the four garden centers referenced non-native plants including myrtle, which is incredibly invasive...

Truth About Plants Your feature, “listen to the local experts” contains an error that is not helpful for the birds and butterflies that try to live in northwest Michigan. Myrtle is not a native plant. The plant is also known as vinca and periwinkle...

Ask the Real Plant Experts This letter is written to express my serious concern about a recent “Listen To Your Local Experts” article where local nurseries suggested their favorite native plant. Three of the four suggested non-native plants and one suggested is an invasive and cause of serious damage to Michigan native plants in the woods. The article is both sad and alarming...

My Plant Picks In last week’s featured article “Listen to the Local Experts,” I was shocked at the responses from the local “experts” to the question about best native plant pick. Of the four “experts” two were completely wrong and one acknowledged that their pick, gingko tree, was from East Asia, only one responded with an excellent native plant, the serviceberry tree...

NOTE: Thank you to TC-based Eagle Eye Drone Service for the cover photo, taken high over Sixth Street in Traverse City.

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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