September 20, 2007


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New Hampshire Patterns, photographs by Jon Gilbert Fox, text by Ernest Hebert (UPNE, 2007, 138 pages)
Reviewed by Lisa Parsons

Like New Hampshire itself, this book of photographs is overall not terribly interesting but contains flashes of great interest and signs of potential.

Its 80 color photos are grouped into four sections: Historical Places, Events, Daily Life, and Nature Patterns. Throughout, novelist and Dartmouth prof Ernest Hebert muses on his nearly lifelong relationship with New Hampshire. He writes about the Old Man of the Mountain; he writes about yard sale-ing.

It’s quite uneven for a book that’s supposed to be about patterns. Or maybe that’s the pattern.

Under “Historical Places,” there’s a lovely picture of dustily sunlit dancers taking a break from rehearsal at Dartmouth, placed next to an uninspired picture of two horseback riders in the driveway of Grace Metalious’s house — without the caption you can’t identify a central feature of the picture; it doesn’t make you contemplate anything. (And even with the caption, the picture doesn’t offer much.)

There’s a drab photo of some kids out back of a high school two pages away from a fascinating stop-motion Sports Illustrated-worthy photo of the annual Mud Football Game in North Conway.

In “Nature Patterns,” there’s a poorly lit, uninteresting picture of a Jackson pine tree, just a blob of dark really. But over in “Events,” the photos of French & Indian War re-enactors in Charlestown are amazing, sparkling-clear and lifelike.

And what makes up “Daily Life” in New Hampshire? Baseball. Puddles. Laundry. Fishing. Millyards. Flags. Yard Sales. Skiing. Town centers. Church supper. Buildings of various kinds. Ice skating. Wharfs. The Old Farmer’s Almanac. Rugby. (Nary a supermarket or the slightest hint of Interstate 93.)

Manchester does show up: a couple Fisher Cats pics, two park statues, and that 1970s apartment building downtown with the squares that jut out at funky angles.

Fox calls the book an “odyssey to discover … the ‘patterns’ of geography, population, philosophy, celebration, and daily life that define the Granite State” but doesn’t say what these patterns turned out to be. Some of the photos depict inherently patterny things, like a ski lift, or cars lined up at NHIS, or wood stacked in a shed; some don’t. Overall the book doesn’t feel particularly New Hampshirey, but then again what does? Besides rocks. And the fact is these photos are New Hampshirey, or at least New Hampshire-derived, so if you’re looking for a big set of postcards from home, well, here you go. CLisa Parsons