Terrific Novel of Backwoods Vermont

Last Sunday afternoon, I picked up Castle Freeman’s Go With Me, and started reading it around 4:00. I finished sometime after 9:00, stopping only to throw more wood in the woodstove. I didn’t stop for supper, just kept going, couldn’t put it down.

There’s two things worth noting about that. It’s a novel that’s on the short side – 176 pages. What a treat to be able to read a fully realized novel in one sitting. The other thing is that the story-telling is so good, the characters so finely drawn, the dialogue so offbeat and true that I didn’t want to leave the world that Freeman creates.

The world is present-day Vermont, but not the Vermont Life or the Chamber of Commerce version. This is the down-at-the-heels Vermont that you can be privy to if you choose to be, but most people in polite society don’t. It’s a harsh underworld of cinder block roadhouses and backwoods towns where a bully can still rule the roost, and where the young and innocent aren’t so innocent. The heroine is a gutter-mouthed handful, and the two heroes, Nate and Les, are a monosyllabic young buck and a crafty geezer.

They are unlikely heroes, but when asked, they’re perfectly willing to take up Lillian’s cause, which leads them into confrontation with Blackway, the town’s bully. Their pursuit takes them on a tour of the rural underbelly, and while Nate keeps mouthing “I ain’t afraid of Blackway,” we know that he certainly should be.

While Les and Nate are on their quest, we learn more about what they are up against by visiting with Whizzer, Coop, and DB back at what used to be a chair factory, who knock back a case of beer before quitting time. Castle Freeman knows these characters well and he portrays them with grace, humor, and not a shred of condescension. Their tales, their digs at each other, their speculations provide a hilarious counterpoint to the very real drama happening out on the road.

Freeman is a fabulous writer with a couple of previous novels and a collection of stories under his belt. I hope that Go With Me introduces him to a wider audience.


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