When a rock festival takes over a small town…

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WEB shape of the skycopyright the Chronicle April 1, 2015

Shape of the Sky, by Shelagh Connor Shapiro. 242 pages. Paperback. Published by Wind Ridge Books. $15.95.

Reviewed by Tena Starr  

The Northeast Kingdom and rock festivals have a historic relationship, so Shelagh Connor Shapiro’s lovely novel, Shape of the Sky, is not as far-fetched as one might think.

In this book, Resolute, Vermont, population 613, decides to host a big rock and roll concert in order to raise money. Although a fictional town, Resolute is obviously set in Orleans County. It’s small, rural, poor, and populated by characters.

At Town Meeting, the local music teacher mentions that he’s asked Vermont’s most famous native rock band if they’re interested in holding a concert in town.

Predictably, some favor the idea, and some don’t. Yes, thousands of fans would boost the economy, if only for a weekend. And, yes, it’s likely to be messy. Yes, farmers could rent out campsites, and local businesses would benefit from the traffic.

But as the concert’s most vocal opponent puts it, the town would also be infested with drug-addicted hippies.

In the end, the town votes to hold the concert, which ultimately brings more than the usual share of problems.

Mainly, there’s the death of a young, female fan, who has been killed by someone and dumped in the woods. Is her death related to the concert, or coincidence? Who’s responsible?

The concert scenes in the book appear to be loosely based on the 2004 Phish concert held on a farm in Coventry, and was, shall we say, memorable? It rained and it rained that weekend, and neither the site nor the roads could handle the upwards of 60,000 people who showed up in such uncooperative weather. Traffic was backed up for miles on the Interstate, and who knows how many people were just plain stuck in the mud?

In Ms. Shapiro’s novel, it does rain on the concert, but the concert itself isn’t actually the focus of this book. Its focus is on its people.

Shape of the Sky is a well-researched and developed story that’s driven by characters. It’s the kind of book that leaves the reader reluctant to get to the last page, sorry to leave the acquaintance of the novel’s people.

The advent of self-publishing has led to a host of books that lack editors, people who would fact-check or offer advice on structure, plot, and reality — how something would realistically play out. This book is published by Wind Ridge, a Vermont publishing company that works with its authors to put out books that benefit from that very sort of advice.

Also, Ms. Shapiro has done her homework. In fact, I e-mailed her to ask how she knows about the layout of a big band tour bus. Having spent 20 years with a man who worked for rock and roll bands (and my honeymoon on a tour bus), I was curious about how she got it so right.

Research, she said.

Good for her. It’s paid off.

The legal matters and the police investigation are also plausible. Ms. Shapiro must have also researched how a crime scene would be handled, for instance, since I assume she does not have first-hand experience with a murder.

Ms. Shapiro’s novel is a good one. Her story is interesting, her characters ring true, and she treats them with empathy.

Rita is obnoxious, but we all know a Rita. She’s not a villain — just irritating and coping badly with her dismal life.

Chris, the police officer, is a bit romanticized, but again, Ms. Shapiro has done enough work to create a realistic cop.

The teenagers are well wrought.

Shape of the Sky is not remotely sensational, or overdone. It’s a quiet book, although a page-turner with more than one mystery. Its appeal lies in its nuanced characters and how skillfully Ms. Shapiro brings them together in a small town that is a character by itself.

contact Tena Starr at [email protected]

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