Ruth Moore’s Maine small-town characters enter The Walk Down Main Street individually. At first it’s a parade. Then they take up residence together for us, interacting, unfolding their relations, in community.
Martin Hoodless we meet first, quintessential hard-working stubborn judgmental curmudgeonly “old Mainer.” This is a novel in which yare (yeah), gaumy (gormy), and they (their or there ) might signify the peculiar downeast accent. Hoodless is in the egg production business, built from ground upwards and finally debt-free (for the second time). He thinks the town’s preoccupation with basketball, and its team in particular, is worthless. (That sentiment is not quintessential Maine.)
From there we move into the basketball crisis, a character at a time. Straight off the basketball court, out of the gymnasium, Moore’s characters weave the interconnections, unfolding the central role of the walk down Main Street. The stars on Main Street, say Shirttail for instance—suddenly and surprisingly he’s elevated by his superior moves on the court.
“Who’s Shirttail?” Martin Hoodless snaps the question after the parade goes by. “Somebody going around naked, I guess?” To an old basketball smitten friend, he gladly reveals his ignorance of details in the town’s current craziness. Turns out “Shirttail” is Martin’s own grandson, living with him in the old-fashioned iconic Maine 19th-century extended dwelling, and its extended family household.
We meet family members one at a time and, last of all, we meet Shirttail’s brother Ralph. The one we can’t help liking best. Ruth Moore has indeed saved the best Hoodless (offshoot) for last.
Someone says this book gives him the warm-fuzzies. My own theory is that the warm fuzzies might not be possible if Ralph, in his powerfully personal predicament, weren’t here walking down Main Street. Ralph is the sole player who resists the town’s fixation—haplessly thinking basketball is supposed to be fun. His walk down Main Street becomes a buffeting.
Parataxis might have worked powerfully in showing Ralph’s escape from danger when he is marooned on an island seemingly without a way home. But Ruth Moore chooses to elide the episode, suppress its emotional power, by not showing us Ralph’s escape, thereby reconciling and complementing it with the understated narrative style. Ruth Moore does a very interesting thing with this hapless character. She takes the town out of its stereotypical small mindedness, bringing nuance through a showing of deep caring for “the real.” The real caring in humanity of members in community: when, in a strange interlude, Ralph shows up missing (that is, he does not show). For them he has just disappeared, igniting their caring in a remarkable way. Immediately on his intrepid return, renewed buffeting follows on the heels of communal relief. The narrative works wonderfully in subtle compression of this sub-climactic event.
Reading The Walk Down Main Street might be worth its weight in yare’s (yeah), gaumy’s (gormy’s), and they’s (theirs). Then again, for some, maybe not.