The Man Who Owned Vermont

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

When Paige abandons the Wheeler apartment, Rick is stunned and confused. Quick to charge that there must be another man, Rick cannot comprehend his wife’s parting accusation that he knows, but will not admit, her reasons for leaving. As autumn deepens into winter, however, several unrelated events unexpectedly strip Rick’s mental defenses. A plumber’s search for a mysterious leak, a blind date for Thanksgiving, a prying supervisor at work, and the killing of a doe during a hunting trip all combine to force Rick to confront his responsibility for Paige’s departure. His guilt about her miscarriage, which he helped cause yet for which he silently blamed her, made him forget the love binding him to Paige. Now ready to speak everything in his heart, Rick drives to the house of Paige’s parents, where she has taken refuge.

This novel, Bret Lott’s first, perceptively treats the staple material of soap operas and melodramas. Yet Lott creates riveting drama without hyperbolized conflict or stereotypical characters. Intriguingly, Rick’s reflections occur as he goes abut his job stocking shelves and building displays with soft drinks. Lott skillfully creates the rituals and routines of work as a counterbalance to Rick’s increasing self-doubt. Rick becomes a convincing character whose emotional immaturity at the novel’s start disappears as he begins to see illuminating images of himself in events, in the landscape, and in other people. To describe these images, Lott evokes the rough topography, climate, and population of western Massachusetts.

THE MAN WHO OWNED VERMONT presents the contemporary American male whose commitment to marriage must be based on self-understanding rather than on traditional gender roles.