Letters

Letters 07-25-2016

Remember Bush-Cheney Does anyone remember George W. Bush and Dick Cheney? They were president and vice president a mere eight years ago. Does anyone out there remember the way things were at the end of their duo? It was terrible...

Mass Shootings And Gun Control The largest mass shooting in U.S. history occurred December 29,1890, when 297 Sioux Indians at Wounded Knee in South Dakota were murdered by federal agents and members of the 7th Cavalry who had come to confiscate their firearms “for their own safety and protection.” The slaughter began after the majority of the Sioux had peacefully turned in their firearms...

Families Need Representation When one party dominates the Michigan administration and legislature, half of Michigan families are not represented on the important issues that face our state. When a policy affects the non-voting K-12 students, they too are left out, especially when it comes to graduation requirements...

Raise The Minimum Wage I wanted to offer a different perspective on the issue of raising the minimum wage. The argument that raising the minimum wage will result in job loss is a bogus scare tactic. The need for labor will not change, just the cost of it, which will be passed on to the consumer, as it always has...

Make Cherryland Respect Renewable Cherryland Electric is about to change their net metering policy. In a nutshell, they want to buy the electricity from those of us who produce clean renewable electric at a rate far below the rate they buy electricity from other sources. They believe very few people have an interest in renewable energy...

Settled Science Climate change science is based on the accumulated evidence gained from studying the greenhouse effect for 200 years. The greenhouse effect keeps our planet 50 degrees warmer due to heat-trapping gases in our atmosphere. Basic principles of physics and chemistry dictate that Earth will warm as concentrations of greenhouse gases increase...

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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