After a series of Adirondack histories, Saranac Lake author Caperton Tissot has released her first book of fiction. "Tibetta's World: Hard Times and Hijinks in the North Country" is a perceptive documentary of Adirondack life that brings the resourceful culture of camp caretakers to life.
The novel follows the Rising family and the fictional town of Meltmor, recognizable at least in part as Tissot's home of Saranac Lake. The Risings brothers - one an injured ski champion, the other a successful architect in New York City - have some crippling secrets that come to light throughout the novel. A young girl, Tibetta, is at the center of these revelations, and Tissot does a good job showing us Meltmor tthrough a child's eyes.
Tissot uses this open-eyed perspective, along with the distrustful view of an urban designer to suggest that rural life is preferable to the city. Tissot documents the highlights of a rough woods community, but also highlights class, tolerance, and the surprising equality that comes from facing both hijinks and hard times in the North County.
The plot is engaging and ties up nicely at the end - most of the many strands that Tissot weaves through emerge into a recognizable pattern by the last pages - nearly 20 years later. The plot occurs mainly during the first five years of Tibetta's life, with some accelerated aging in the second half of the book, bringing us up to her young adulthood and college.
Though there's a good dose of smalltown humor and cutesy cliches about the joys of rural life, Tissot addresses some more serious issues. Prejudice toward "city folk," crippling pride, and secrecy haunt the Rising family, and it's clear that these tendencies are related to the environment in which they live.
While the narrative relies on a complex social environment, the natural world forms the novel's most compelling backdrop. Tissot slips in occasional short chapters titled with the names of seasons. These short interludes take a more reflective and personal tone than the rest of the book, inviting the reader to participate in appreciating the natural beauty and change of Meltmor.
Tissot tells a moving story with enough implausible plot to keep it interesting. She also uses some unconventional techniques to relay the most cryptic and moving moments. Pitt and Rat are a homeless man and his pet wood rat who offer unexpected adages, whether or not they are present in the scene. Though Pitt and Rat occasionally appear as comic relief, their observant couplets arrive whenever a character needs a little aphoristic perspective.
As Rat says, "No regrets, no backward glance / Merely pawns in the game of chance." The life of the caretaker is lauded throughout the book - a life that's sometimes uncomfortable, and often disastrous. As the Risings learn to leave behind their backward glances, they face dishonesty, untimely death, and snide small town politics with an abiding hopefulness.
This is a great first novel by Caperton Tissot, and in whatever direction she next takes her precise, thoughtful writing, I look forward to reading it.
This review reflects the individual view of the reviewer, not the views of the Adirondack Center for Writing or the Enterprise.