The Vermont of David Mamet in a Book of Essays

The Great American Road Trip

Book Cover: David Mamet's Essays on Vermont
Destination: Vermont

Book: South of the Northest Kingdom by David Mamet (a National Geographic Series called Directions)

David Mamet
David Mamet

The stereotypical dialogue of Vermont, “Aye-up” and “Nope” may have influenced the spare, quirky dialogue of David Mamet’s plays and movies. Movies like Glengarry Glen Ross,  State and Main (a good Vermont movie), and my favorite, House of Games, have such a recognizable speech pattern that Mamet is easy to satirize. However, it is a mistake to take him lightly. His look at America is brilliant. I first made his acquaintance through his plays when I studied them in a university theater class.

This slim book of essays about his life in Vermont, South of the Northeast Kingdom, converses in a different style. From time to time he uses a word that will have you running to the dictionary, but for the most part, you feel like you’re sitting on his front porch, just listening to him talk.

Despite having lived part time in Vermont for most of his adult life, through two marriages and the growth of his children to adulthood, Mamet continues to feel like an outsider.  He ponders the destructive affect of outsiders on the traditional Vermont they came for in the first place.

Sometimes his essays meander away from Vermont to talk about politics. The book was written in 2002, and he talks about contemporary events like September 11, and the George W. Bush administration–which he doesn’t like a  bit. (Here’s a Village Voice 2008 essay about his politics). But for the most part, Mamet is talking about the importance of place and he  provides a good little guidebook, which  gives us a streetview of some towns. He tours the downtown of Hardwick, for instance, and recommends the Village Restaurant at the junction of Rtes. 14 an 15. He introduces us to craftsmen and women–weavers, woodworkers, furniture makers. And he talks about hunting and guns.

Here is Mamet at his best, talking about geography:

How can one be uninfluenced by geography?  One cannot.  We all are affected at the least by the weather, which is specific to geography.  And this is a beautiful country, so perhaps geography can inculcate civic pride, and thus perhaps civic virtue.

I loved to stand on 57th Street in New York, around sunset, around Seventh Avenue.  At that height one could look to the east, look to the west, and see the two rivers in that thrilling late-afternoon light.

It felt like love to me. As it did in Chicago, near the lake, even in that cold which freezes the inside of the nose, and gives you that copper, blood smell, which seems to live in the back of the head; or in Los Angeles, at night, which is the only time the city comes alive. And so on.

It is difficult for me to stop quoting Mamet, because I love almost all his words. But I will stop here, and let you find this little book yourself. Several times he mentions the heritage of the Scotch, and so Kerry Dexter’s Great American Music Tour will provide us with the appropriate Celtic-tinged background music for our road trip to Vermont.

On my only trip to Vermont, I was a teenager. My family visited old friends in a cabin by a lake that outlawed motor boats. The families were the well-off summer people that Mamet decries.  But we took little trips into the countryside and saw the Grandma Moses scenery, the white spired churches on village  greens and small museums and odd stores. It was all to lovely for words. Mamet has the words.

Here’s an  interview about the book that Mamet recorded with NPR in 2003.

So far the Great American Road Trip has talked about Blue Highways, the USA Book, visited Massachusetts and Connecticut. Come back next week for another New England state.

Are you familiar with David Mamet? Tell me about your experiences in Vermont. Are they similar to Mamet’s?

Thursday we take the day off, and Friday we’re celebrating Black History Month right here. And before you go away, please remember to share this post by clicking one of those buttons below.

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About Vera Marie Badertscher

A freelance writer who loves to travel. When she is not traveling she is reading about travel. When she is not reading or traveling, she is sharing with the readers of A Traveler's Library, or recreating her family's past at Ancestors In Aprons . She has written for Reel Life With Jane, Life is a Trip and other websites. Also co-author of a biography, Quincy Tahoma, The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist. Contact Vera Marie by e-mail.

10 thoughts on “The Vermont of David Mamet in a Book of Essays

    1. Nancy: He is not a full time resident, but studied there and taught there in the sixties, and now has a small house where he lives part of each year.

  1. Jennifer: That is incredibly cool. You need to get the book–your father’s name may even be in it, because Mamet mentions his poker buddies a couple of times. And glad you’re trying the Lute Player. Let me know what you think.

    Alexandra: I’m not surprised about the hippy types, but am a little surprised you’ve never been there. It is a most beautiful state and not all that far from you. You can get some Ben and Jerry’s ice cream from the source north of Montpelier.

    Sheryl: Mamet is better known for his very spare dialogue, tending to a lot of f words, but these essays bring out a different side of his writing.

  2. Have been to Vermont many times, though not recently. It’s beautiful and so scenic, especially the majestic green mountains. I’m glad you wrote about this book; I love the excerpts you’ve chosen to quote (“cold that freezes inside the nose…”) and more!

  3. I did not know about this book. Thanks for writing about it. Will get it from our library. Not too familiar with Vermont, except that I know many hippy types who lived on Cape Cod in the 1970s moved there to escape what they felt the Cape was becoming, ie. a tourist destination.
    .-= Alexandra hopes you will read blog ..Why Bloggers Love Comments … =-.

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