...[a] magnificent new novel ... Dee has always trained a sharp eye on the tricky intersections between private and public life in his fiction. But in The Locals, he has outdone himself. The book is a transcendent look at the battered state of the American psyche in the interim between two key years in our recent history: 2001 and 2008 ... Dee circles all around his players, bringing alive their inner lives and interconnections ... With rueful sympathy and acuity, The Locals conjures all the cares and quandaries of flawed characters coping in a faith-corrosive world.
The Locals feels attuned to the broader currents of our culture, particularly the renewed tension between competing ideals of community and self-reliance ... there are lots of unhappy characters, all elegantly choreographed in a dance of discontent ... With this little town, this idyllic-looking version of America, Dee has constructed a world — harrowing but instructive — where no one feels content ... You don’t have to be a Pollyanna to believe that there is such a force as love in the world, and graciousness and selflessness, too. But those qualities are missing in these characters, as though they were suffering some kind of moral vitamin deficiency. Hardly any of these people are allowed even a moment of inspiration or elevation ... Amid the heat of today’s vicious political climate, The Locals is a smoke alarm. Listen up.
This novel is a big machine, and Dee drives it calmly, like a farmer inside the air-conditioned cockpit of a jumbo tractor pulling an 80-foot cultivator. He drives it perhaps too calmly. He has the intelligence to pull off a novel of this size but lacks, somehow, the killer instinct — the ability to move in for intensities of feeling and thought and action. He’s written a lukewarm book that seems far longer than its 383 pages. Consuming it is like being in one of those frustrating dreams in which you run and run but don’t go anywhere ... there are too many lumpy homilies in The Locals, sections that read like monologues from lesser Arthur Miller plays.
While it’s not a sequel to The Privileges, it could be that book’s counterpart, or consequence. It’s the other side of the late-capitalist equation that gave the Moreys more and more, and it too suggests a vision of how the world ends … The story of a man of few charms but great net worth who, citing Adam Smith as he goes, reaches out with his invisible hand and pussy-grabs a piece of the Berkshires, The Locals has an air of satire, but there’s nothing in here that’s implausible. It’s more like a tragedy about people who allow themselves to be made ridiculous. At times, we might be reading a magazine article about the rural death spiral that birthed the Trump voter. They’re deplorable, these locals, but are they culpable? … Dee has written a book against sentimentality, and while brilliant it is unforgiving.
Good old social novels are hard to come by these days, great ones harder still. Leave it to Dee to fill the void with a book that’s not only great but so frighteningly timely that the reader will be forced to wonder how he managed to compose it before the last election cycle ... With a feather-light touch, Dee shows the effects of these calamities on their thoroughly unremarkable lives in what seems like real time. They drink; they gossip; they alienate one another; they suffer, then drink some more. Even their most picayune antics render our current predicament, writ small—which is, perhaps, the best way to digest this mess.
Dee uses a roving, limited omniscience to give voice to a wide array of Howland’s residents...Together they provide a panoramic view of a local population reinforcing the idea that most people, no matter where they live or what their socioeconomic status, are selfish and semi-delusional if generally well meaning ... In his portrait of an urban sophisticate who relocates to the country, Dee can sometimes resemble a discursive, more cynical Richard Russo. But the book is ultimately less concerned with Hadi himself than with his influence on the unhappy, rivalrous and dysfunctional Firth family ... As the tension builds, protests are planned. Yet for all that the book gestures at a kind of political allegory, it shies away from the capital-S Scene it seems to promise and tapers away into anticlimax. Even more confoundingly, Dee concludes the novel in much the way he begins it, with an episode that feels unconnected from the main action. Still, The Locals is a quietly engrossing narrative that dishes out its food for thought in sly, quotable lines.
At times Dee’s tale hops around with too much abandon, channel-surfing across the heads of its ensemble cast ... the ground appears to have been laid for an acid political satire, a tale that charts the creeping progress of fascism up Main Street USA. Except that the author appears to delight in confounding expectations, even at the risk of doubling back on himself ... Dee likes dramas that change direction. He paints his moral universe in shades of grey. And here he appears to have outdone himself, rustling up a portrait of a New England town in a state of flux that seeks to make a bonus out of its lack of resolution. The Locals is first intriguing, then exasperating, and finally rather admirable in its open-ended narrative. Audaciously, this sends the reader in pursuit of a shadowy quarry, pointing us towards the dark heart of fictional Howland, Massachusetts. Then it removes all the signposts, repositions the cameras and leaves us to find our own way back out.
...a remarkably pleasant read for a novel in which so little happens … Dee does a fine job of evoking the texture of small-town New England life in the 21st century, and his characters are particular enough, while also standing in for types. He hits a range of resonant notes — the demise of traditional masculinity, the barely contained violence of the economic losers who will in a few years, or so goes the script, vote for Donald Trump, and of course the tension between America’s ‘just about managing’ and the well-off … With its profusion of subplots, The Locals scans almost as a sequence of interwoven short stories.
Dee excels at capturing the feeling in these places whose best days, if they ever really existed, are decades gone by. His knowing gaze and elegant writing work well throughout The Locals, which is infused with a sense of desperation and dread. His characters are vivid, and the emotions raw. The novel stumbles somewhat near the end, however, seeming to run out of steam.
The premise strains credulity, but Dee has other story lines about people’s paranoia of terrorism, of high school slights never outgrown, of family tensions, of economic uncertainty that are genuine enough … If Dee didn’t quite know how to start this novel, he sure doesn’t know how to end it. Yes, the middle has its moments. But there are only two book covers.
This is a big, old-fashioned novel filled with a large cast of floundering locals. Dee shifts the point of view to each in turn, providing a wide-angle view on Howland anxieties ... The Locals is a steady, intelligent probing of family ties and sibling rivalry and themes that illuminate how we live now — inequality and status envy, individualism and community, the high life and the good life. Dee falters only in a too-long introductory set-piece (33 pages) and an abrupt, inconclusive ending.
In Jonathan Dee’s thoughtful and witty new novel The Locals, set in the years between 9/11 and Occupy Wall Street, dozens of the trends and ideologies that make up our current American moment come to insistent, demanding life … The most enduring idea running through the book, the one that is perhaps most vital to the America of 2017, is the deep and profound belief held by most of the characters in The Locals that they have been conned. Somebody has screwed them out of what they deserve … Crucially, Dee’s characters aren’t just vague avatars of rage or allegories for American political movements: All of them are rich psychological portraits, carefully grounded in their cranky small-town life. They’re all so well-defined that it’s a pleasure to watch Dee weaving in and out of their heads.
What happens to the citizens of Howland plays both as political allegory and kaleidoscopic character study. An absorbing panorama of small-town life and a study of democracy in miniature, with both the people and their polity facing real and particular contemporary pressures.
His blue-collar characters, each of them pursuing the American Dream, are vividly developed, and his insights into how they think about the government (ineffective and corrupt) and their rights as citizens (ignored, trampled) are timely ... Dee handles the plot with admirable skill, finding empathy for his bewildered characters. He creates tension as a reckoning day arrives, and strikes the perfect ending note.