Readers across the Merrimack Valley are turning to books — to be entertained, to find connection with our region in a safe manner, and to keep our minds active and engaged during these unusual times. We put together a special, all-literary edition of Eight Great to point you to books written by Merrimack Valley authors, past and present, whose works make for good reads.
ONE: “Sweet, Sweet Jayne,” by T.R. Monaghan, is set in the Lowell of the early ’70s. It’s a violent, dark crime novel, with touches of beatnik flair — kind of like Raymond Chandler meets Charles Bukowski. This tense, chilling novel is filled with local color, and the city itself figures prominently. Those who were there will enjoy being reminded of the city as it was. Those who weren’t will enjoy the experience of traveling back in time, however grim it could be at times.
TWO: Jane Brox grew up in Dracut, and among her books is “Five Thousand Days Like This One: An American Family History.” This 1999 book tells the story of Brox’s Lebanese American grandparents and their apple orchard. Its more complicated than that — Brox uses her grandparent’s story to frame the history of farming in the Merrimack Valley from its native origins to the end of the last century.
THREE: “Mid Drift” is one of my favorite poetry collections put out by the locally owned Loom Press. The poems are set against the Lowell landscape, and the poet, Kate Hanson Foster, handles the subject matter in a manner both lyrical and unflinching.
FOUR: Also at Loom Press, the anthology “Atlantic Currents: Connecting Cork and Lowell” includes 65 writers who are connected to either Lowell or Cork, a city in Ireland. Just published, the idea is to draw parallels across the ocean. You may find the book’s “hunger for harmony” particularly relevant in the uncertain times we’ve suddenly found ourselves in.
FIVE: NECC alumna and West Newbury resident Diannely Antigua was recently one of 10 emerging writers to receive the prestigious Whiting Award. Her debut poetry collection, “Ugly Music,” was featured in our 2019 summer reading guide.
SIX: Although largely set on a farm in Vermont, the first chapter of “Total Loss Farm,” is set in Lowell. A funny and offbeat memoir, ostensibly about a farming commune, it has remained in-print, and an inspiration to the counterculture, since its publication in 1970. Author Raymond Mungo is featured in the forthcoming May/June issue of mvm, in which he recalls his childhood growing up in Lawrence.
SEVEN: I suppose no Merrimack Valley-related literary list would be complete with a nod, and a raising of the glass, to Jack Kerouac. Although not as famous as “On the Road,” I’m going to suggest you check out “The Dharma Bums.” At the end of the novel, the narrator retreats from society to work at a national park, where he experiences a horrifying loneliness, offset by a willingness to find spiritual solace in the face of his isolation. You see where I’m going with this.
EIGHT: Finally, my last choice isn’t out yet, but it will be next week. Preorder it and help out a local writer. “Barker House” is the debut novel of UML prof and former correctional officer David Moloney. The story interweaves the lives of people who work at the fictional Barker House prison in the non-fictional state of New Hampshire. This one is all about the characters: Moloney makes the smallest moments: a prisoner anxiously shaving his face during a tense moment, a guard preparing to pitch at a police league softball game, into rich psychological portraits. The drama doesn’t come from riots or prison breaks. It’s in the daily struggle to find meaning in life under extraordinary circumstances. We profiled Moloney in November and you can read it here.