Underestimate the novelist Carolyn Chute at your own risk.

Carolyn Chute at home
Chute with her husband, Michael (Jessica Hasslen, Salt)


I arrive self-conscious about my fuel-efficient little Honda (beep beep!) having read of her distaste for yuppies in their “self-righteously small cars.” The hand-drawn map to her place, variously colored and on two sides of a sheet of typing paper, is other-worldly and filled with “big old places” and a “cemetery with about forty bodies” (this is the same cemetery where Michael works and at first glance seems to have at least a hundred headstones, causing one to wonder). In fact, if it hadn’t have been for the map, I never would have guessed that the slight patch of dirt off the side of the blacktop was her road — not so much a road as an indentation into the woods, where her house hides from view. A clothesline with several black-markered notes hangs across the way, encouraging friends and acquaintances, even Bruce Springsteen, to scram. She’s working. However, a dangling business-sized envelope has my name on it. Inside is a virtual pre-approval voucher for $27,600 from Toyota to be used toward the purchase of a new or pre-owned car. On the other side, it reads “Proceed,” with a smiley face.


What Carolyn Chute is really on to is this idea that her novels are a bridge — a rickety and not always confidence-inspiring bridge — between middle-class Maine and the other Maine, the Maine she grew up in. It’s an impoverished Maine.


This is exactly the sort of judgment that Beans and her other novels are angrily rebelling against. It’s a rebellion, however, that seems to have failed. Instead of inspiring class-consciousness, it has inspired Gen X irony, as in the case of rock stars Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love, who christened their baby Frances Bean because, in the Bill and Ted–ish words of Spin magazine, “The Beans of Egypt, Maine is, like, the ultimate white-trash novel.”

Author of Finding Bix (2017), Mr. Jefferson’s Telescope (2017), and Wolfe’s History (2019). Iowan in Virginia.

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