Today our literary road trip throughout the nation takes us to the smallest state in America: Rhode Island. While small, Rhode Island is full of beautiful scenery, containing forests and numerous islands just off the coast. While one of the thirteen original colonies, it is unique for being settled by Roger Williams who sought to escape religious persecution. The state was a haven for those in religious and political exile, earning it the nickname “Rogue Island.” Rhode Island was the first state to renounce British rule, furthering its rogue reputation, and even resisted signing the Constitution as many of the citizens preferred a weaker government. Now known as the “Ocean State,” Rhode Island is known for it beaches, bays, and inlets as well as for being an industry hub. Most recently, it has become one of the first states to fully embrace legislation geared toward helping the environment, with a plan to have zero emissions by 2025. Join us as we continue our Top Books by State series by examining some of the best books set in Rhode Island:
The Witches of Eastwick by John Updike
Pulitzer Prize-winning writer John Updike's book The Witches of Eastwick is set in a fictional Rhode Island town. It features three women who discover they are witches after their respective marriages end. Most of Updike’s body of work takes place in New England, but The Witches of Eastwick is his only book that takes place predominately in Rhode Island. The novel was adapted into a film starring Cher, Susan Sarandon, and Michelle Pfeiffer in 1987—the following passage detail how the witches were able to affect their town, even after their departure.
Some people find fall depressing, others hate spring. I've always been a spring person myself. All that growth, you can feel Nature groaning, the old bitch; she doesn't want to do it, not again, no, anything but that, but she has to. It's a fucking torture rack, all that budding and pushing, the sap up the tree trunks, the weeds and the insects getting set to fight it out once again, the seeds trying to remember how the hell the DNA is supposed to go, all that competition for a little bit of nitrogen; Christ, it's cruel.
What is of interest is what our minds retain, what our lives have given to the air. The witches are gone, vanished; we were just an interval in their lives, and they in ours. But as Sukie’s blue-green ghost continues to haunt the sun-struck pavement, and Jane’s black shape to flit past the moon, so the rumors of the days when they were solid among us, gorgeous and doing evil, have flavored the name of the town in the mouths of others, and for those of us who live here have left something oblong and invisible and exciting we do not understand. We meet it turning the corner where Hemlock meets Oak; it is there when we walk the beach in offseason and the Atlantic in its blackness mirrors the dense packed gray of the clouds: a scandal, life like smoke twisted into legend.
Home Fires by Luanne Rice
Beloved romance novelist Luanne Rice often features themes of nature alongside her stories of love and family. Her 1995 novel Home Fires is set on a small island off the Rhode Island coast and describes the beautiful scenery of the state. The following passages detail the peace and happiness the characters find in their remote home:
Not everyone glimpses paradise during their lifetime. Only the lucky ones.
Thomas felt his breath coming easier than it had in two months, and not for the first time. He wondered why people make it so hard to talk to the people they love. They imagine the worst, they set up obstacles to prevent the truth from coming out. But in the end, when they finally muddle through, they find relief.
Plan, Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth
Emily M. Danforth’s 2020 gothic novel Plain, Bad, Heroines features dual timelines all surrounding the mystery and possible haunting of a Rhode Island girl's school built in the early 1900’s. The novel showcases the natural landscape of the state, its forests, and coastlines, as well as what Rhode Island was like for women and queer individuals at the turn of the 20th century.
That version, as with so many of the stories we tell about our history, erased a woman- a plain, bad heroine- in favor of a less messy and more palatable yarn about two feuding brothers from New England.