Feature

Katherine Heiny recommends 6 books set in small towns

The novelist recommends works by Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, and more

In Katherine Heiny's new novel, Early Morning Riser, a schoolteacher moves to a new town and falls into a relationship with a man who's slept with most of the local women. Below, Heiny recommends six other books set in small towns.

Jaws by Peter Benchley (1974).

It's easy to forget that there are two dangers looming in this blockbuster — the great white shark and the corrupt officials who are desperate to keep the beaches of Amity open. The book also explores small-town economics, resentments, and dread with wisdom and empathy.

Salem's Lot by Stephen King (1975).

Yes, this book is about vampires who come scratching at people's windows late at night, but it's also about how even the most charming of small towns can harbor evil. (I first read it in my parents' house when all the window sashes had been removed in order to replace the frames, and I truly believe I haven't been the same since.)

Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury (1957).

Writers who cite Ray Bradbury as a major influence include, well, almost all writers. But is it any wonder? When I read Dandelion Wine in high school and reached the point where Lavinia Nebbs climbs the stairs of her cottage after we readers have deduced that the town's serial killer is ­inside — ­honestly, it felt like my head cracked open right there in English class.

The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin (1972).

Suburban life in Stepford is full of dangers, and not all of them involve wife-­killing robots — for example, you might get caught in a particularly soulless conversation about laundry detergent. Levin tightens the noose on his heroine almost imperceptibly. I have read this book many, many times, and I still always hope for a different ending.

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (1965).

Evidently, I like to read about the dark side of small towns, and this book depicting the horrible Clutter family murders and how they rocked the town of Holcomb, Kansas, is no exception. Time has not diminished Capote's true-crime masterpiece one iota.

Little Town on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder (1941).

I won't describe how wonderful this late entry in the Little House on the Prairie series is, because either you already know about it or you haven't read it and I wouldn't want to spoil it for you. But everyone should read it, if for no other reason than to be grateful for central heating.

This article was first published in the latest issue of The Week magazine. If you want to read more like it, you can try six risk-free issues of the magazine here.

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