Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Week 5: State - Rhode Island

Rhode Island, or to give it its full title “Rhode Island and Providence Plantations” (the longest name of any state), is famously the smallest of all 50 states (but the second highest in population density). Founded in the 17th century by, amongst others, Roger Williams, a theologian who was forced out of the strongly Puritan Massachusetts Bay Colony for advocating freedom of religion, separation of church and state, abolition of slavery, and equal treatment to Native Americans, the colony was established on the principles of religious and political tolerance. Over the last century Rhode Island has become one of the most reliable democrat states in the country, having only voted Republican in the Presidential Elections seven times in the last ninety-six years. Rhode Island is known as the Ocean State (in reference to its large bays and inlets) and the capital and largest city is Providence.

In popular culture Rhode Island is best known today as the setting of the animation series Family Guy (set in the fictional town of Quahog) and most of the films by the Farrelly Brothers (who are native to the state), from their debut Dumb and Dumber (which opens in Providence before moving to Aspen, Colorado), though Me, Myself & Irene, to their most recent Hall Pass. The 1956 musical High Society was set around a wedding in Newport, which was also where John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Bouvier married three years earlier. However, there have not been a great deal of notable novels set in the state, so picking one was not a difficult task:

John Updike is the first writer chosen on this section of the trip not have been born in the New England region. Updike was born in Pennsylvania but moved to Massachusetts in his late twenties, where he continued to live until his death in 2009 at the age of 76. Updike set numerous novels in the region, most famously Couples, set in the fictional town of Tarbox (which many asserted was based on the town of Ipswich, MA where he lived). Aside from its lesser regarded sequel (The Widows of Eastwick) The Witches of Eastwick was his only novel set in Rhode Island. The reviews on amazon seem to be greatly divided between fans of Updike (4 and 5 stars) and those who have come to the book as fans of the film (1 and 2 stars). I fall into neither category this being my first Updike. I remember seeing the film a long time ago and thinking it a mildly entertaining vehicle for Jack Nicholson’s eyebrows so if anything the prospect that I’m in for something very different is not such a bad thing.

Review to follow this/next week…

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