Small Towns and Big Popularity

In one of those, “Wow, everyone’s thinking the same thing,” moments, Faygie Levy at RTBookReview (who is awesome) contacted me about my thoughts on the number of new romances featuring small towns and communities. Starting with the steadily growing popularity of Robyn Carr‘s Virgin River series, along with Toni Blake’s new Destiny series (which I think of as, “Why, yes. Yes, I am excited to read about Ohio”) there are a number of series and romance novel collections set in or around supremely small towns.

There could be any number of reasons for this trend, and I won’t jump in front of Faygie’s article by listing my own thoughts, but before she emailed me about it, I received an ARC of Kate Noble’s The Summer of You, which is also a small town story, but with two differences.

First, it’s a historical, which I find fascinating because I have noticed smaller community settings in historical romances, almost as if that genre were paralleling the plot community downsizing that we’re seeing in contemporary romances. For example, two books in Tessa Dare’s series took place at country house parties among family, or on board ships, both of which embody the “small town” motif: a very intimate group of people you know, who know you, and who are undoubtedly all up in your business.

Second, it features a heroine, Lady Jane Cummings, who leaves London for a small summer town:

Lady Jane Cummings is certain that her summer is ruined when she is forced to reside at isolated Merrymere Lake with her reckless brother and ailing father. Her fast-paced London society is replaced with a small town grapevine. But one bit of gossip catches Jane’s attention- rumors that the lake’s brooding new resident is also an elusive highwayman.

Jane must face the much discussed mysterioso after he saves her brother from a pub brawl. She immediately recognizes him from London: Byrne Worth, war hero and apparent hermit-whom she finds strangely charming. The two build a fast friendship, and soon nothing can keep this Lady away from Merrymere’s most wanted. Convinced of his innocence, Jane is determined to clear Byrne’s name-and maybe have a little fun this summer after all.

So it’s not just a small town, but a tale that removes the heroine from a heavily-populated urban setting and places her in that intimate rural locale.

I was pondering why this motif of urban-to-rural movement and small town setting seems prevalent in the last year or so. It occurred to me that perhaps it’s due to the downturn in the economy. Perhaps in times of economic strength and growth, readers are more interested in urban fantasy of a different sort: the rich, luxury fantasy of a glittery metropolitan setting. But if the economy is shrinking, perhaps readers crave rural simplicity, the fantasy of hearth and home, with villas in rural areas and small towns and themes of agriculture replacing the urban grit and corporate glitter.

It might be that I’m assigning a pattern where one doesn’t exist, or that the urban/rural setting switch off has always been a part of romance, one that follows an ebb and flow pattern unrelated to the economy. I’m sure as hell not an economist, and I’m not saying that the books themselves were purchased with an eye on the economy. But I do think the reason they are popular is a reflection of changing feelings due to downsizing, diminished returns, and general economic doldrums. Thus the themes of intimacy, community, support and people all up in your business for better or worse are more desirable due to the feelings of isolation exacerbated by the external stressors of mass financial crapitude.

I don’t think that every trend and temporary popularity in romance can be attributed to external factors – it’s not like romances featuring sheikhs and mythical countries in the middle east are more or less popular based on the progress or stagnation of the peace process in that part of the world. But I have to wonder if there’s a correlation between small community set romances, and those featuring characters who are removed from urban, densely populated areas and relocated to much smaller, rural ones. I am definitely more curious about these types of books and am presently looking forward to reading them, though, as I pointed out to Faygie, New York and northern New Jersey function similarly to small towns – New York City is made up of a few bazillion small towns all stuck together.

Do you like small town or rural romances? Which of the recent ones have you enjoyed – or is there an older one you adore? Do you think it’s possible that there’s an external factor contributing to the popularity of these books?

 

 

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  1. 1
    Lisa says:

    Small-town settings have always been popular for mystery plots. Deanna Raybourne’s second two Silent books do this – take the heroine from urban, historical London and place her on country estates for the duration of the mystery. It limits the field of suspects, puts the heroine a bit out of her depth, and lets the author play with atmosphere. Sounds like it might be happening here.

    There are plenty of medievals dating back to the 80s which could be said to have this plot when the heroine moves into the hero’s castle. Australian medical contemporaries love to do this. Outlander technically does it.

    So I don’t think urban-to-rural is new (over at AAR somebody’s always being irked by the “virtuous small town” trope). If it’s more popular now, I’d say it’s because publishing moves in waves and somebody noticed that people like Carr had success and went out looking for copycats.

    Also, based on the general adoration of “Bet Me,” I’d say everybody on this site is pretty damn excited to read about Ohio.

    spamword: policy69. I didn’t realized I needed a policy on it.

  2. 2
    Kim in Hawaii says:

    Sarah, thank you for the thought provoking post.  I ditto Lisa’s comments that Robyn Carr has demonstrated success with her Virgin River Series and others are following her lead.

    I prefer historical romances and your post cast my preferences in a new light.  I do prefer a smaller cast of characters so I can get to know them better.  This is easily accomplished by removing one family of the Upper 10,000 from London to the countryside, especially the West Country.  Countryside settings remind me of my grandmother who lived in Devon.  Plus I have traveled all over the British Isles, so I enjoy reading about something other than London. 

    I appreciate your correlation of economic downsizing to the setting downsizing, but I think it may be a coincidence.  Plots come in and go in waves; it is now time for the small town.

    Regarding Ohio, my in-laws retired from Wright Patterson AFB and remained in their small town.  MIL never thought she’d live in the Midwest, but they haven’t been motivated to leave their small town, including their neighbors and other retirees.

    Ohio will soon be hopping in late April when RT arrives in Columbus.  It will be interesting to see how many fans from small town will attend to meet Jennifer Crusie, JR Ward, and others.  Regretfully, I am unable to attend and will miss your workshop, Save the Contemporary.  I look forward to reading convention updates on your website!

  3. 3
    Kerrie says:

    Back in college I started to read Helen Hooven Santmeyer’s “And Ladies of the Club” which would definitely qualify as historical and a small Ohio town (from what I remember). It was too long for a busy college student to finish but I enjoyed what I read and have been meaning to go back to it.

    I think there’s a bit of a backlash effect underway where a simpler time is being yearned for. Perhaps in part to the prevalence everywhere of technology, gadgets, etc that seem to clutter up our lives. But I might just be speaking from personal experience. Ever since I’ve unloaded a bunch of my “crap” I feel soooo much lighter! Now, if only I could be strong enough to disconnect from the internet….

  4. 4
    Jan Oda says:

    I’m not sure this is a current trend. I live in Belgium, so I get most of my romances in translation from the Dutch Harlequin, because there isn’t really another way to get them, esp since we don’t have an Amazon. (Though I have been buying more original works in english since Amazon came to existence).

    Most romances I own are from the 90s (except for the great box of 70s romances I inherited from my grandmother), and the small towns prevail. I have to say that for translations they edit out all cultural references we are deemed not to understand, which I think is horrific, so I wonder now if they maybe change the setting too. Because I think only 10 books I own aren’t set in a small town or countryside, and I have around 300. And it absolutely isn’t something I select on.

    So either there was a rise of the rural setting in the 90s too, or the Dutch Harlequin selects on this because they think we’d find it more recognizable, or it’s just all a coincidence.

  5. 5
    Nadia says:

    Perhaps in times of uncertainty and change, people long for the romanticized “traditional values” that some people equate to small town vs. the big bad city, and books offerings are mirroring that, consciously or unconsciously.

    I’ve lived in the ‘burbs of major metro areas all of my life, but I traveled to enough small towns in a former career to see the negatives along with the positives therein.  Got no yearning for the “simple life” myself as I see that as more as a function of your choices, not your location.  When it comes to book choices, though, I don’t much care as long as the setting fits the story.  I would tend to dismiss any book that tries to sell that small town=moral values line of crap, though. 

    Read “Lessons in French” just last week, and that took place in a small town.  Considering the heroine’s interest in animal husbandry, of course it would.  Plus, the insular nature of the town and how that affected the hero’s mother was a key point.  And the next book I read was “Soulless”, and the urban environment of Victorian London fit the plot in ways a rural setting would have failed.

  6. 6
    JoanneL says:

    Mystery authors always knew the appeal of the small town and the characters that populate them. Agatha Christie was the master of Small Town Mayhem.  Personally I think it’s just a trend (the small town themes) and will circle back around just as it always has.

    Maybe it depends more on what agents/publishers think the readers want right now rather then what the readers want right now.  If several authors are successful with writing romances set in small communities then that’s what they think will sell and they sell because that’s what’s out there to buy.
    HINT: We don’t want all the books to be set in the same locals.

    The bestest small town setting I’ve read recently: The Dead Travel Fast by Deanna Raybourn.
    Dude, you don’t get much smaller then Transylvania!

  7. 7
    Kat Sheridan says:

    I think that just as there is a current tendency toward “cocooning”, and “stay-cations” (stay at home vacations), so people are looking for books that are set in a smaller, less glittering location as well. I know historicals (aside from most Regencies) have often been like that. I write historical romantic suspense, and like the small, controlled setting and the limited pool of suspects.

    And as a person born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, setting for the upcoming RT, I’d like to welcome you to my hometime. I think we’ll surprise you. It’s the state capital, and a bustling place, but has a very small town feel and some of the friendliest people you’ll ever meet! And kind of like NY, Columbus has gobs of ‘burbs that cling to the center city and make up a larger mosaic.

    Also, completely off topic (and please forgive the intrusion), today is the day the Golden Heart and RITA finalist calls are being made. Good luck to all the hopefuls! And if you want to join in a giant “squeee” party, stop by Judi Fennell’s site for the third annual party!

    http://judifennell.wordpress.com/ritagh-10/

  8. 8
    Angela James says:

    Several years ago, Lauren Dane wrote a series of small town contemporaries for Samhain Publishing. They center around one family, the Chase family, and are all romance. I still love this series and think fondly of it. I’m a fan of small town romance, I’d happily publish many more because I think it’s reminiscent of some of the older 80s novels—and actually if you think about the recent Diana Palmer review you just hosted, that’s a small town romance where the author uses the setting as one of the characters. Authors like Diana Palmer (and Linda Lael Miller and Debbie Macomber) have been writing these small town contemp romances for years. There’s something comforting about them, I think.

  9. 9
    Terry Odell says:

    I lived in larger cities, but wrote about small towns. And now we’re moving to one of those dots on the map. We’ll see if I got it ‘right.’ There are a few drawbacks I’ve discovered already, which just happen to be mentioned in part of my own blog topic today. Synchronicity?

    I’m reading Allison Brennan’s “Original Sin” set in a small town, which adds to the flavor of the book.

    As far as books, I hope the trend carries into mystery, which is the new book I’m pitching, featuring a small town police chief.

  10. 10
    Theresa Meyers says:

    Actually I think there’s always been an appeal for readers who like their small town romance. Otherwise why would you have lines like Harlequin American or the popularity of authors like Debbie Macomber who’s books tend to be sent in small towns.
    There is the chance that the “re-discovery” of that element is due to the economy, but everything in popularity is a cycle.

    I was just unfortunate enough as a thirteen-year-old to get caught up in the last time we had this social cycle in the early 80’s when my mom decided to move us from San Jose to a sheep ranch in a very small rural Oregon town that had a smaller population for the whole town than the congregation of the church I went to in California. Let me tell you, the whole idealized version of small town falls away quickly when you realize sheep aren’t fluffy, wuffy little whitened wads of wool, but snotty big old greasy-haired galumps that will bowl you over for a bucket of corn.

    But I digress. Small towns have an ever-green popularity. Carly Phillips whole Bachelor series was in a small town and that was almost ten years ago when the economy didn’t suck. I think it’s just that publishers are touting it as a big thing, when really, sooner or later, everything is a big thing.

  11. 11
    TaraL says:

    Is this really a trend? I just went and looked at my keeper shelf and it seems like most of them take place in a small town or a neighborhood/community within a larger city that has a small town feel. Even most of the historicals that take place in London are set within “the ton” which is just a small, elite community within a larger one; everyone knows everyone else’s business and is more gossip-y about it than any small town I ever lived in.

    I think that feeling of connection is a big draw for many people (not just romance readers, as previously noted, the small town “cozy” mystery is a staple). I think that is probably an intrinsic part of the HEA for many people, me included. It’s not just about finding Mr. Right. It’s about the hero/heroine finding the right place to flourish in, among good friends, because it’s difficult to live happily ever after in a place that you dislike.

  12. 12

    I do love reading Robyn Carr’s Virgin River series, as well as mostly anything Debbie Macomber sets in small and/or rural areas beginning with the Promise, Texas series, but I don’t know if it really has that much to do with the setting (because I sure wouldn’t wanna be stuck living there—I had enough of small towns when visiting Grandpa in the summers *shudder*, the library was always closed for vacation and there was nothing. To. Do!**), or if it has more to do with the fact that I am a series ho and a small town is the perfect setting for books with a small cast of characters who will show up in later books even after their own tale has been told so I get a peek at their lives. There’s that warm feeling of coming home/visiting with old friends…

    I apologize for the paragraph-long sentence. (But I’m not sorry enough to change it!)

    **Of course, these days it doesn’t really matter what’s outside my four walls as long as there is a fast internet connection and the Book Depository delivers…

    BTW, Jan Oda, let me introduce you to the Book Depo. It’s better than Amazon (YMMV, of course) and has free shipping! http://www.bookdepository.co.uk http://www.b,ookdepository.com

  13. 13
    Chicklet says:

    I gravitate toward books set in cities, probably because I live in one and I love it. My grandparents lived in a very small town, and I spent childhood summers with them, so I know enough about living in that environment to know it’s not for me. The thought of people I barely know being all up in my business gives me a wiggins—that’s why I went to college at a 45,000-student university, and not the small private college my friend went to that was smaller than our high school. *shudders*

    Like other posters, I’m not sure the small-town setting is really a current trend; it seems like it’s been prevalent throughout the history of the romance genre. At least, it seems prevalent when I’m at the bookstore, trying to find a non-paranormal urban romance. *g*

  14. 14
    Cakes says:

    I’m not noticing it as being recent (as in, since the recession), either. A slew of small town Texas contemporaries from the last 10 years comes to mind. “Heroine leaves small town for big city success and returns to small town to find the town bad boy is as sexy as ever.”

    I prefer the country Regency romances. But, then I’m pretty sure I would have been a scandalous hoyden if I was in the Ton.

  15. 15
    Jan Oda says:

    Thanks bookjunkie! Free worldwide delivery? That’s awesome.

    I forgot to add that I’m a total ebook addict for the same reason, the more I read the more I dislike translations.

    ““Heroine leaves small town for big city success and returns to small town to find the town bad boy is as sexy as ever.”

    This plotline I own tons of I think. That and the slight variation where heroine runs to a new small town and finds that there are sexy men there too!

  16. 16
    Julie T says:

    I am currently living in a small town in Ohio and have never read a romance novel set here. Am I missing out on something?

  17. 17
    TaraL says:

    I am currently living in a small town in Ohio and have never read a romance novel set here. Am I missing out on something?

    Yes. :o)

    Jennifer Crusie for one thing. I’d suggest Tell Me Lies to start with. Great small-town Ohio book. Or maybe Welcome To Temptation. Or Crazy For You.

  18. 18
    Alpha Lyra says:

    I wrote an essay a few months ago about a change in the game World of Warcraft. They’d added a feature that allowed you to group up with people on different servers, and this changed the social environment from having something of a “small-town” feel, where everybody knows everybody, to being more like a big city where virtually everyone you run into is a stranger. Almost overnight, pro-social behavior disappeared. People became ruder and more selfish in groups, presumably because they knew the people they were grouping with would never see them again.

    Despite this, the new grouping-across-servers feature is adored by nearly all users, including me. Because there are so many more people available, you can quickly get a group for just about anything. The rudeness is a downside you just put up with.

    My essay received some interesting comments, including many people saying they thought the benefits of city living vastly outweighed the greater sense of community one gets in a small town. The most common benefit mentioned? The greater variety of people available. This is particularly important for people who have eccentric interests or are in any way outside the mainstream (like me). Geeky romance-novel-reading software engineers like me probably wouldn’t be able to find like-minded folks in a small town, but we can find them in a big city. (Or in the biggest of all cities, the internet!)

    I think small towns in romance novels are a way of having your cake and eating it too. The author can populate the small town with exactly the right sort of people for the heroine to connect with, and then the heroine can enjoy the benefits of small-town living without having to experience the downsides.

  19. 19
    Kalen Hughes says:

    I don’t think I gravitate one way or the other, I just want a good book! That said, I find books that present small town life as superior, more authentic, etc (as compared to city life) kind of annoying. And it seems to me that “girl returns to little home town from big nasty city and finds trwe wuve” has been a trope in category romance forever (it’s one of the reasons I don’t read a lot of them).

  20. 20
    elph says:

    Delurking again – I love this blog, and I find this topic really interesting. I agree with the posters who pointed out that small town settings have been around in Romance since, well, since Jane Austen. But it does seem to me that the small towns have been getting quirkier of late, and the heroines more likely to be a transplant or returnee than a longtime local. So, I can also see how there might be a growing cultural desire to return to the hearth.

  21. 21
    Tina W says:

    I think that with all things romance the industry sees something succeed and sell and then tends to jump on the bandwagon, overdo it and saturate the shelves with it. Like others have mentioned, small town romances have been around forever.  But Series are what is really IN right now.  It is like the gritty urban-fantasy, tattooed, kick-ass heroine books that seem to proliferate. 

    And am in agreement with Kalen.  I just want a good book set wherever it is set.  I am a bit weary of the “leaving the big bad city and going to the fabulous wonderful where values so much better small town so you can find real true love” stories.  This is probably why I am on a sci-fi kick right now.  What is more opposite than a small town than the vastness of space or a brand new planet?  LOL.

  22. 22
    Rita Sawyer says:

    I’m an avid romance reader across the sub genres so I’ll read just about anything. That said I like the comfortable know your nieghbor mentality I find in small town romances.
    I think the most important thing is good characters and an interesting story.
    I write contemporaries set in small towns or suburbs. I’ve live in both small towns and a big city so I tend to use both experiences when I write.

  23. 23

    I think Tina W. is on to something when she says “series are what is really in right now.” Readers love series, and for a number of years, Romance authors have been trying to meet that demand with books centered around huge families or military teams. (SEP’s football team stands out, in my mind, for its uniqueness.)

    A small town setting enables the author to write multiple, continuing story lines, with one HEA per book, in what I think is often a more organic way. Even if the various love interests are all 6’5” hunkzillas, the remainder of the cast can be more realistic and varied.

    Terry Odell, I have found small town police chiefs work fine for readers.

  24. 24
    Pam Regis says:

    Try Jane Austen’s Emma(1816) for an account of the near-claustrophobia of society a small town.  The films don’t quite capture the limitation of Emma’s horizons visited upon her, in part, by Highbury.

  25. 25
    Sabrina says:

    I love small town romances and do think there have been some big names doing them well for quite a few years. I agree that we are starting to see more and more of them.

    A series that I instantly thought about within the first few paragraphs of your post was Victoria Dahl’s contemp series. Talk Me Down is about the girl who got away from the small town, went to the big city, and then came back. Her second book in the series, Start Me Up, is about that small town girl who could never get out of town. I found that to be two very interesting takes on the small town setting within the same series.

  26. 26
    Cat Marsters says:

    A handful of thoughts from different directions.

    My first thought was the same as SB Sarah’s, that perhaps it’s one of those things that comes up in an economic downturn, an extension perhaps of the popularity of ‘feelgood’ fiction.

    My second thought was that I like reading small-town books because I live in one. Well, a village, really. While it’s fun reading about glam lives in a city where you can get a manicure at 3am, it has nothing at all to do with my life. Perhaps publishers are realising there is quite a sizeable chunk of the population who also live outside large urban areas, and they’re worth catering to?

    My third thought was that it’s probably all just coincidence. It’s not as if I never read a small-town romance before the recession. They’ve always been around, but maybe one two might have done better than city romances, and so more have been commissioned. Maybe it wasn’t about the recession or about what readers want, but about a couple of good authors getting lucky and sparking a trend.

    My fourth thought was that maybe mysteries do so well in small-town settings because they limit the cast of characters and make it harder to hide. It also limits the size of the community; who wants to live in the Murder Capital of Wherever? (call this the Midsomer Effect). I’m currently writing the second book set in a small town beset by vampire murders. That sort of thing is going to have an effect on the expansion possibilities of a small community!

    My fifth thought was, hey, I write small-town books. Because I live in one. Well, a village, really…

  27. 27
    library addict says:

    I agree with Kalen, too.  I don’t prefer small town romances over big city ones, I just want a good book.  But when done well, the small-town setting becomes almost another character in the book.

    One of my favorite small town series is Marcia Evanick’s Misty Harbor, Maine series which se started in 2002.  I’ve also enjoyed many of the books in Marilyn Pappano’s Bethleham series which she started in 1997.  And the early books in Rachel Lee’s Conard County series she wrote for Silhouette are on my keeper shelf (though the later ones kind of ran of steam and the “next generation” books are sadly not at all the same caliber). 

    Many of my favorite Karen Templeton’s books are also set in small towns.  As are several of Nora Roberts’ family series, one of my all-time favorites being the Chesapeake Bay books.

  28. 28
    Kalen Hughes says:

    I wonder if it’s because so often the small towns are made up, where as the big cities are real?

    I mean, I live in a big city, but it FEELS like a small town to me: I know my neighbors, I shop in the same four stores over and over, I have a butcher, a bar, a bakery, etc. I have my loopy eccentrics and my local color. I know all the dogs in the neighborhood, and all the kids.

    Living in a big city simply means you end up recreating a microcosm of “small town”, but I don’t always see this reality reflected in books set in big cities (in fact, most of the ones I can think of are chick lit, and the whole point is usually little town girl makes good in big splashy way).

    Does that make sense?

    Oh, and I’m over the moon that Dahl just finaled in the RITAS!!!!

    verification: town56 (I’m being haunted by small towns now!)

  29. 29
    jarant says:

    @ Pam Regis. I think you are on to something re: Austen’s criticism of small towns. She probably spent most of her pages skewering “country” personalities and behaviors. However, despite all the faults, Austen usually identifies villages as superior to cities. Yes, “country people” are intrusive, insensitive and ill-bred, but “city people” are portrayed as aloof, cold and unfeeling. The Bingley sisters’ efforts to lure their brother and Darcy away from the country and trap them in town demonstrates them to be conniving and dishonorable. The residents of Meryton may be nosy and impolite in the extreme, but at least they aren’t purposefully cruel. Additionally, town is frequently the site of Significant, Bad Things. In Sense and Sensibility, Marianne is shattered when she goes to town to visit Willoughby and discovers his true character. In Pride and Prejudice, Lydia’s unsupervised visit to town is the mechanism for her disastrous entanglement with Wickham.  Town is where the Bingley sisters reveal their true indifference towards Jane and plant seeds of doubt about their brother’s love for her. And Austen’s HEA’s always involve a country estate: Elizabeth’s and Darcy, Marianne and Col Branndon, even Emma’s and Mr. Knightley’s settle at his estate to be close to her father. Of course, one could make the argument that Austen doesn’t extol “the country” as much as “large houses in the country.”

    I think Austen’s use of small communities really influences how we think of romances today. Insular villages weren’t just the setting, they were integral to the relationship story.  Of course, Austen’s influence may rate somewhere below “marriage trends” and just above “reality TV”, but I think it’s there.

  30. 30
    Liz says:

    I have never really thought about small towns in romance (other than those series titles, where it seems like the author is trying to pair off every town-person, which kind of squicks me because it is way too incestuous and very dangerous in a “survival of the fittest” way).  What really bothers me about small town romances (since they always seem to be rural towns) is that it seems as if people can only be happy once they move away from the city (i lived in a small town in Queens—different from small towns in any other borough—and I wasn’t happy until I moved to Boston—so not a small town) to bond with a bunch of busybodies and their cows.  It wouldn’t bother me so much if the small towns were like the small towns in New York City (not the ones in Queens, though)—people could still know each other without the annoying cows (just the annoying busybodies—which could actually be worse than the cows).

    Obviously, I tend to like the stories that take place in bigger cities (NYC, Chicago, Boston, LA…) because there is so much more to explore in such places, which is why a lot of people move out of the small towns and into the cities.

    Also, I think Sarah may be on to something with the idea that people are more tempted to read stories about small towns during economic downturns.  If you look at different historical periods in which there were economic troubles, people tended to move away from the cities and back to the rural communities.  I was watching a documentary on the fall of Rome last week, and they explained how once the city fell there was a lot of financial problems (due to the fact that it had been cut off from the rest of the known world for years before the Romans surrendered), and that many people fled the city for other areas.

    A reason for this type of behavior may rest on the American Dream.  Typically, this would be described as having the “white picket fence, the golden retriever, and the 2.5 kids.”  For some reason the American Dream has always taken place in the suburbs, so when people are afraid that the city can no longer help them achieve that goal, they will literally head for greener pastures.  Maybe they have family there or maybe it is just easier for them to support themselves in the smaller towns than in the “big bad city”—one of my cousins has been spouting off on how much more affordable North Carolina is than NYC for more than a decade (pretty much since Clinton left office).

    To me the American small town ideal is typified by the John Mellencamp song “Small Town” in which a guy from a small town moves to the big city and longs to return to his small town because he “can breath in a small town”.  Actually, many of his songs contain that small town ideal—think about Jack and Diane…everything about that song just feels like a small town.  In the first line you learn that they’re “two American kids growing up in the heartland.”  Then they’re hanging out at a “tastee-freeze,” someplace that would not exist in bigger cities.  This ideal in his music is probably why the Republicans tried to commandeer his music for McCain’s campaign in 2008.  They tend to think of themselves as “the party of the small town,”  and they probably are, which is sad since many people from cities do move to small towns at some point in their lives, and they’re stuck with a bunch of conservatives for neighbors (you can tell that i am pissed off about the idiots protesting the healthcare bill, can’t you?).

    I digress, and get off of my high horse.

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