The Fancy Times

Fine Slop for the Discerning Tastemaker

The Beans of Egypt, Maine

Carolyn Chute, 1985

Ghosts bust up my house all the time. They don’t hurt me…but they keep me awake rollin’ them big Blue Hubbards around and smashin’ up glass. They get right under the sheets with me and run around in there under the sheets.

Set in the impoverished hills of rural Maine in an era that could be any time, Chute’s debut novel is essentially a story of pastoral poverty. There is no heroic character transformation, no one is saved, no one escapes. Harsh living gets even worse. 

The story follows Earlene Pomerleau, a young girl obsessed with her freakish neighbors. These are of course the big and messy Bean clan that infests the whole hillside. Drunk, violent, grotesque. The women stumble over a brood of clinging babies. The men break each others ribs and pass out under their trucks. Earlene’s father has raised her with the assertion that they are above the Beans, but her obsession pulls her ever closer into the rat’s nest. Where another writer may have used such source material in mockery, the book has takes a somber tone. There are no judgements nor is there any romanticizing. It is simply a story of some lives, written in practical third person omniscient narration. 

The author seems either of that world or at least grew up in close proximity to it. A former floor scrubber and potato farm worker, but also a former professor of creative writing at the university in Portland and a present-day contributor to the New England Literature Program. Still alive and still in Maine, reportedly living in a house with no phone, computer, or indoor plumbing. She resides with her handsome gun collection and handyman husband who never learned to read. 

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