Have you ever loved a book or a movie so much, you’ve insisted that a good friend borrow it, knowing they’ll love it as much as you do? Had a childhood friend come to visit and you couldn't wait to introduce him or her to your current friends? Back in the early 80’s I read a book called The Dogs of March and although the original copy I had was loaned out and never returned, I bought another copy several years ago because I wanted to be able to read it again any time I had the urge. It’s like one of those books Judy Merrill Larsen posted about several weeks ago. I’ve probably read the book a half dozen times. It’s an old friend.
Ernest Hebert teaches writing at
Hebert has been honored with numerous writing awards. United Press International honored him with three journalism awards when he was a reporter for The Keene Sentinel in Keene, New Hampshire. The Dogs of March, was cited for excellence by the Hemingway Foundation. The New Hampshire Writers Project named Mad Boys the best novel by a New Hampshire author in 1993 and the same honor went to The Old American in 2001. In 2002, he received the Sarah Josepha Hale Award for lifetime achievement by a New England author. Spoonwood was the IPPY award winner for Regional fiction in the Northeast in 2005.
In September of 2006 The New England Booksellers Association named Hebert their Fiction Author of the Year.
Reviewers have noted that in Darby, Ernest Hebert has created
Hebert was probably the first (and may remain the only) author to masterfully, elegantly and genuinely create Granite State natives, working class people, as complete characters not just as caricatures of the stereotypical New England Yankee, used to backdrop bigger stories.
I have a special place in my heart for the Darby series. I was born and raised primarily in and around Boston, but I lived in the area of
When I think about why The Dogs of March has endured for nearly 30 years, why it remains in print and why I find it as true and relevant now as I did when I first read it, I believe it’s because beneath the well drawn characters, the intimate sense of place, and the taut, compelling plot, flowing throughout the story and elevating it to literature is a theme about insiders and outsiders. What has often been called regional fiction isn’t regional at all. This is a universal story.
Immigration issues have been big news since the first Europeans set foot on this continent and displaced the Native Americans. In rural areas, the insiders are the working poor and middle class and the outsiders are the affluent. These areas have changed, sometimes gradually and sometimes rapidly by development that has displaced the original insiders. In urban and suburban areas, often the dynamic is reversed. The insiders are the middle class, who feel their lives and culture are being disrupted by those in the lower socio-economic rung of the class ladder. We live in a largely transient culture now where one can start out as a newcomer and outsider and eventually become an insider – without changing addresses. Changes around the world have made this a global issue. The insider and outsider theme carries into our psyches and how we feel among our friends, families, neighbors and co-workers and they with us. We’re always shifting our roles between insider and outsider.
Ernest Hebert’s website is a wealth of fascinating insight into his writing process and tells the story of how he came to be a fiction writer. One of my favorite pieces is an essay called “How John Gardner Kicked My Ass and Saved My Soul”. He provides us with insight into where Howard Elman came from, how his own working class and immigrant roots informed his work and even how he came to name his characters. You can also hear an audio interview with the author at New Hampshire Public Radio and read a number of reviews of his work by doing a search on Ernest Hebert or Ernie Hebert.
If you know his work, I’d love to hear from you. If you’ve got a favorite author that isn’t widely known, please share what it is about his or her writing that you love. If you have thoughts on the insider versus outsider – native versus newcomer theme, I’d love to hear those too.
A lot of the authors I love are household names. Ernest Hebert is not as widely known, but he is one of my favorites and may turn out to be one of the best writers you’ve never heard of -- yet.