“[Jonathan Dee’s] prescient sensitivity has never been more unnerving. . . . Amid the heat of today’s vicious political climate, The Locals is a smoke alarm. Listen up.”

 Ron Charles 

The Washington Post





“Rich, provocative...Wry and insightful enough about the intricacies of maintaining an artists’ life — and the sacrifices required to achieve it — that it will no doubt become required reading for the Hudson Valley set.” 

Lisa Zeidner 

The Washington Post

American Dreaming: Scott Spencer and Jonathan Dee with Kerri Arsenault

Tuesday October 3, 2017
07:00 pm

Tags: Event




Acclaimed authors Jonathan Dee and Scott Spencer discussed the often grim reality of the American Dream explored in their latest novels. Dee’s The Locals centers on a rural, working-class New England town that elects a hedge fund millionaire from New York as mayor in the months following 9/11 and the class-based tensions that arise. Spencer’s River Under the Road follows the lives of two couples over twenty years and the fragile balance between triumph and defeat, creativity and commerce. Author, editor, and critic Kerri Arsenault interviewed the two authors.



About The Locals

Mark Firth is a contractor and home restorer in Howland, Massachusetts, who feels opportunity passing his family by. After being swindled by a financial advisor, what future can Mark promise his wife, Karen, and their young daughter, Haley? He finds himself envying the wealthy weekenders in his community whose houses sit empty all winter. Philip Hadi used to be one of these people. But in the nervous days after 9/11 he flees New York and hires Mark to turn his Howland home into a year-round “secure location” from which he can manage billions of dollars of other people’s money. The collision of these two men’s very different worlds—rural vs. urban, middle class vs. wealthy—is the engine of Jonathan Dee’s powerful new novel. Inspired by Hadi, Mark looks around for a surefire investment: the mid-decade housing boom. Over Karen’s objections, and teaming up with his troubled brother, Gerry, Mark starts buying up local property with cheap debt. Then the town’s first selectman dies suddenly, and Hadi volunteers for office. He soon begins subtly transforming Howland in his image—with unexpected results for Mark and his extended family. Here are the dramas of twenty-first-century America—rising inequality, working class decline, a new authoritarianism—played out in the classic setting of some of our greatest novels: the small town. The Locals is that rare work of fiction capable of capturing a fraught American moment in real time.


About River Under the Road

Thirteen parties over the course of two decades-an opium infused barbeque, a reception for a doomed presidential candidate, a fund-raiser for a blind child who speaks in tongues, a visit to one of New York’s fabled sex clubs-brilliantly reveal the lives of two couples, one hoping to be admitted to the kingdom of Art, the other hoping for a small share of the American dream, both driven by forces of history they rarely perceive or acknowledge. Thaddeus Kaufman, the son of booksellers, and Grace Cornell, raised in a basement apartment she longs to escape, meet at a neighborhood art fair in Chicago. Soon after, they head to New York, aloft on the wings of young love. Jennings Stratton, the son of a caretaker, and Muriel Sanchez, the daughter of a cop, meet in a house he is refurbishing in New Mexico, and they, too, head for the big city. In a vast Hudson River estate, the lives of the two couples ultimately intertwine. Thaddeus has made it big in an unexpected way, setting off a chain reaction of envy among his friends and peers and forever changing the dynamic of his marriage with Grace, for whom success has been elusive, and art, once a source of solace, has become a font of bitterness. And Jennings, hoping to transcend his reputation as the local Casanova, a man suited only for menial tasks, has ventured into a cycle of theft and betrayal that threatens to destroy the fragile life of his family. Funny and cutting, affecting and expansive, River Under the Road is Scott Spencer’s masterpiece of all that lies beneath our everyday lives-a story about the pursuit of love, art, and money, and the inevitable reckoning that awaits us all.



Jonathan Dee is the author of seven novels, most recently The Locals. His novel The Privileges was a finalist for the 2010 Pulitzer Prize and winner of the 2011 Prix Fitzgerald and the St. Francis College Literary Prize. A former contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine, a senior editor of The Paris Review, and a National Magazine Award–nominated literary critic for Harper’s, he has received fellowships from the National Endowment of the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. He lives in Syracuse, New York.


Scott Spencer is the author of eleven novels. The novels Endless Love and A Ship Made of Paper have both been nominated for the National Book Award, with Endless Love selling over two million copies. Spencer has also worked as a journalist, and has published in The New York Times, The New Yorker, Harper's Magazine, GQ, O, The Oprah Magazine, and he is a regular contributor to Rolling Stone. He has taught at Columbia University, the University of Iowa, Williams College, Bard College's Bard Prison Initiative, and the University of Virginia. Spencer attended the University of Illinois, Roosevelt University, and graduated from the University of Wisconsin. In 2004, he was the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship. Published in June, River Under the Road is his most recent novel.


Kerri Arsenault serves on the National Book Critics Circle Board and her work has appeared in various publications including Lithub, The San Francisco Chronicle, Kirkus Reviews, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and Freeman's, among others. Kerri also serves as an Editor for the forthcoming magazine, Jewels of the North Atlantic and Arctic, a magazine devoted to generating global understanding of the gravity of changes in the region and how they affect the environment, the economy, and people.  

She received her MFA from The New School and previously studied at Malmö University, Sweden, in the Master programme in Communication for Development, ,an interdisciplinary program analyzing the interplay between politics, media, information and communication technology, international development, diversity, conflict resolution, and theories of social change within the context of globalization Her book, What Remains, about the life and death of a small paper mill town in Western Maine, will be published by Picador in 2019.