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Go With Me - Book of the Month

by Castle Freeman

On the cover of my edition of GO WITH ME is a quote from a review in the Wall Street Journal: ‘A novel with echoes of DELIVERANCE and Cormac McCarthy.’ For me, that promised scary hillbillies, a gothic plot, powerful spare writing and wilderness, and, to some extent, that’s what Castle Freeman’s short novel delivers. But hang on, this is not the badlands of the deep south: this is Vermont, heart of New England, land of chocolate box villages, kissing bridges and ‘leaf-peepers’ who swarm the state in their thousands to drink in the glorious spectacle of the Fall. Isn’t it?

The Vermont that Freeman writes about is the part that tourists don’t tend to see: the isolated communities that are scattered among the 350,000 acres of national park that straddle the Green Mountains. Here lives Whizzer, owner of the Dead River Chair Company, where for three generations, until cheap imports took the bottom out of the market, his family made a good living turning out useful objects made from wood. He keeps it going as a sawmill but, since an oak tree fell on him, he is confined to an electric wheelchair (hence the name) and spends most of the day with a group of cronies downing six-packs and chewing the fat.

One day, a young woman with long dark hair arrives asking for their help. Lillian has been threatened by a notorious local criminal, Blackway, who has seen off her boyfriend and killed her cat. Having spent a terrified night in her car with a paring knife at the ready, she had gone to the sheriff seeking protection and he, claiming that the law couldn’t help, had sent her to Whizzer.

Whizzer recruits tough old Lester Speed and young Nate the Great, a ’ tall, long-boned, heavy-wristed kid: not a scholar, not a talker. Smarter than a horse, not smarter than a tractor’, to sort out Blackway. Lillian is distinctly unimpressed by her protectors – “You’re sending me after Blackway with the kid who does the chores and somebody out of the old folks’ home?” – but, with no other choice, she sets off with them and, over the course of one hot summer day and night, they track down the violent villain who has for years been terrorising the neighbourhood.

The story of their avenging mission, which becomes increasingly tense, alternates with scenes from back at the sawmill where Whizzer and his friends keep up a very funny commentary. Freeman keeps up this brilliant balancing act between nail-biting suspense and comic bathos right up to the horrific dénouement.

GO WITH ME is small but perfectly formed – a gripping tale set in the gorgeous wilds of Vermont told with humour and affection for the ‘woodchucks’ that populate it.

Clare Chandler

Read our interview with Castle Freeman.


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