Every September, when the latest edition of The Old Farmer’s Almanac comes out, I turn immediately to the “Farmer’s Calendar,” 14 brief, gemlike essays by Castle Freeman Jr. Afterward, I ask myself two questions: How does he do that? And how does he do it in such a small space?
He’s done it again, this time in the form of a short novel called Go With Me (Steerforth Press; $21.95). It’s just 160 pages long, with fairly small dimensions and fairly large type. It won’t take long to read (especially because you won’t put it down), but it contains multitudes: the lives of “sad, dirty, half-empty people, people who didn’t want to be seen: runaways, suicides, drinkers, addicts, sellers of goods that are on no account to be sold.”
And yet, among these shadowy people, the natives who are called “woodchucks” even by other natives, Freeman has written a medieval quest, a courtly romance. It’s got a damsel in distress, a young knight who comes to her rescue, an elderly magician, and an evil ogre who lives deep in the forest.
It’s also a crime thriller, a love story, and a meditation on the way Vermont has changed and is changing. It’s beautiful, frightening, and very, very funny.
How does he do that? And how does he do it in such a small space?