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Top Books by State: Vermont

By Adrienne Rivera. Mar 17, 2024. 6:54 AM.

Topics: Poetry, Pulitzer Prize, American Literature

Today, we continue our literary road trip through the United States by taking a closer look at some books set in the great state of Vermont. This New England state, home to hot, humid summers and long, frigid winters, possesses a landscape of great natural beauty. Known for agriculture and forestry, Vermont's landscape has served as an inspiration to writers and artists for years. Join us today as we take a closer look at Vermont in our Top Books by State series: 

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Pulitzer Prize winner Donna Tartt’s novel 1992, The Secret History, takes place at a fictional college in Vermont and follows the murder of a student by his friends. Set against the backdrop of academia, The Secret History is a murder mystery in reverse. Readers know immediately who is killed and the identities of the killers, and the story of the novel lies in how they commit the murder and manage to get away with it. Vermont’s harsh seasons play a significant role in the novel, from spring and summer being a cause of joy to unexpected late snow being the reason the murder goes undiscovered for as long as it does. The following passages detail the weather that plays such an important role in the events of the story:

It seemed my whole life was composed of these disjointed fractions of time, hanging around in one public place and then another, as if I were waiting for trains that never came. And, like one of those ghosts who are said to linger around depots late at night, asking passersby for the timetable of the Midnight Express that derailed twenty years before, I wandered from light to light until that dreaded hour when all the doors closed and, stepping from the world of warmth and people and conversation overheard, I felt the old familiar cold twist through my bones again and then it was all forgotten, the warmth, the lights; I had never been warm in my life, ever.


The_Secret_History,_front_coverWhite Sky. Trees are fading at the skyline, the mountains are gone. My hands dangled from my jacket cuffs as if they weren't my own. I never got used to the way the horizon there could just erase itself and leave you marooned, adrift, in an incomplete dreamscape that was like a sketch for the world you knew -the outline of a single tree standing in for a grove, lamp-posts and chimneys floating up out of context before the surrounding canvas was filled in-an amnesia-land, a kind of skewed Heaven where the old landmarks were recognizable but spaced too far apart, and disarranged, and made terrible by the emptiness around them.


The weather suddenly turned unseasonably and insistently lovely in the first week of April. The sky was blue, the air warm and windless, and the sun beamed on the muddy ground with all the sweet impatience of June. Toward the fringe of the wood, the young trees were yellow with the first tinge of new leaves; woodpeckers laughed and drummed in the copses, and, lying in bed with my window open, I could hear the rush and gurgle of the melted snow running in the gutters all night long.

In the second week of April, everyone waited anxiously to see if the weather would hold. It did, with serene assurance. Hyacinth and daffodil bloomed in the flower beds, violet and periwinkle in the meadows; damp, bedraggled white butterflies fluttered drunkenly in the hedgerows. I put away my winter coat and overshoes and joyfully walked around, nearly light-headed, in my shirtsleeves.

Mountain Interval by Robert Frost

MountainInterval robert frostPerhaps no other writer is as synonymous with the state of Vermont as renowned poet and four-time Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Frost. Born in New Hampshire, Frost moved to Vermont in his forties and spent much of the last four decades of his life writing there, inspired by the beautiful landscape of the New England state. Vermont's influence is present in the natural imagery of his poems, particularly in his 1916 book, Mountain Interval, which contains some of his best-known poems, including "The Road Not Taken," “Birches," and "Out, Out—," which specifically names the state of Vermont as the setting. Frost was named Poet Laureate of Vermont and is buried in Bennington.

Out, Out—

The buzz-saw snarled and rattled in the yard
And made dust and dropped stove-length sticks of wood,
Sweet-scented stuff when the breeze drew across it.
And from there, those that lifted eyes could count
Five mountain ranges, one behind the other
Under the sunset far into Vermont.
And the saw snarled and rattled, snarled and rattled,
As it ran light or had to bear a load.
And nothing happened: the day was all but done.
Call it a day, I wish they might have said
To please the boy by giving him the half-hour
That a boy counts so much when saved from work.
His sister stood beside them in her apron
To tell them "Supper." At the word, the saw,
As if to prove Saws knew what supper meant,
Leaped out at the boy’s hand or seemed to leap—
He must have given the hand. However, it was,
Neither refused the meeting. But the hand!
The boy’s first outcry was a rueful laugh,
As he swung toward them, holding up the hand
Half in appeal, but half as if to keep
The life from spilling. Then the boy saw all—
Since he was old enough to know, big boy
Doing a man’s work, though a child at heart—
He saw all spoiled. “Don't let him cut my hand off—
The doctor, when he comes. Don't let him, sister!”
So. But the hand was gone already.
The doctor put him in the dark of ether.
He lay and puffed his lips out with his breath.
And then—the watcher at his pulse took fright.
No one believed. They listened to his heart.
Little—less—nothing!—and that ended it.
No more to build on there. And they, since they
We're not the ones dead, turned to their affairs.

Adrienne Rivera
Adrienne Rivera received her MFA in fiction from Southern Illinois University Carbondale. She currently lives in southern Indiana.


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