Elyssa East’s reading in Rockport
As I watched Elyssa read, I realized that we were witnessing one of those transformations that can happen with really great art. Edward Hopper made the white houses in Gloucester seem like more than just houses, and Elyssa has made Dogtown into “Dogtown.” Now that she has it seems obvious and even inevitable, but at first, years ago, when she told me about her idea, I wondered how she could make a story out of this little patch of land on Cape Ann. Now I wonder why I didn’t get it right away. Dogtown seems an obvious book and the better question is why no one else thought of it. But this is the genius of invention, I guess. By lifting something out of the ordinary world and getting it on the page, you create something discrete and strange and different that feels like it must have always been there, waiting for someone to peel back the skin and discover it. Even the characters in the book, Shep Abbot, Isabelle Natti, Lee and Robert Natti — people I’ve known for years — now appear to me as “characters.” It is a gift to see the world this way. I feel re-inspired to make Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley into The Marys. I don’t want people to overlook them anymore. I want people to notice them, think about them as a famous mother and daughter, and wonder about them, the way I do, the way I am doing with Dogtown right now.