Author of 'Heart Spring Mountain' turns passion into a novel

BRATTLEBORO — Bonnie, Vale, Lena, and the rest of the characters in Robin MacArthur's new novel "Heart Spring Mountain" percolated in her mind long before the novel was ever written, before the event central to the story's plot, Tropical Storm Irene, ever happened.

"My characters come to me in mysterious ways," she said, not about anyone in particular. "These are pulled from my mind."

The novel was finished after the 2017 inauguration of Donald Trump, during what was a time of political despair for many people. MacArthur hopes that readers see how essential it is we get together over food and music so people may find a sense of hope even in the dark.

MacArthur was born and grew up in Marlboro in an off-the-grid cabin her parents built in 1968. She described herself as equal parts her parents' back-to-land-generation of the '60s that changed Vermont's political landscape and her own generation, but choosing her own path.

After Irene, the road in Marlboro on which she lived was washed out in all directions, cutting her off from the rest of the world for a week and a half, and she had no power for three weeks.

She was inspired by these losses.

"Books are reflections of our fears and our passions," MacArthur said. The story that unfolds on the fictional Heart Spring Mountain is a reflection of her passion about climate change and the opioid epidemic, issues Vermonters first thought wouldn't affect them, but have.

A press release for the publication of her book described it this way: "'Heart Spring Mountain' begins in August 2011, as Tropical Storm Irene wreaks havoc on Vale Wood's native Vermont, flooding rivers and destroying homes. When Vale learns that her mother, Bonnie, is missing in the wake of the storm, she returns home to search for her despite their eight-year estrangement. Though her hometown of Heart Spring Mountain that Vale comes back to is not the one she once knew, her return propels her back into the complex lives of the family she thought she'd long since left behind. As Vale's search for Bonnie intensifies, MacArthur's beautifully rendered narrative expands to the Wood family's history, pitching back and forth in time to follow three generations of women — a widowed farmer, a back-to-the-land dreamer, and an owl-loving hermit. Through these richly inhabited characters, MacArthur brilliantly explores the forces at play in the creation of a family's identity, prodding at the small fractures that can make families break and testing the lasting ties that bind them together."

Publishers Weekly starred review wrote, "Tender ... nuanced, poetic, and evocative. MacArthur empathetically depicts each of her characters in their wounded but hopeful glory."

MacArthur intertwines Vermont's history with today, showing how it is connected, and that the past is still very present. "I have long been obsessed with the ghosts embedded in the landscape, and how those ghosts affect the future in countless, branching ways," MacArthur said.

"Heart Spring Mountain" not only gives a visual and emotional account of the effect that climate change and the opioid crisis has had in Vermont but touches on the eugenics movement in Vermont a century ago, (which led to the sterilization and institutionalization of many of Vermont's native peoples, and sent many others into hiding), the naive idealism of the back-to-the-land movement, the landscape's wildness, family secrets, finding love in unexpected places.

Although set in Vermont in which Vermont readers can relate strongly to the physical descriptions of the landscape, the novel transcends landscape. Others see it as a book about families and the passage of time evidenced by it having been selected as Michigan's January Book of the Month and launched on Amazon this week.

MacArthur said, "The book is about our culture of disconnection from communities, families and from our landscapes. I hope this book inspired people to reach for a connection."

MacArthur lives and works on the farm where she was born. She is the author of "Half Wild: Stories" (winner of the 2016 PEN/New England Award), the editor of Contemporary Vermont Fiction: An Anthology, and one-half of the indie-folk duo Red Heart the Ticker.

There will be an evening of music, food, and a cash bar provided by Whetstone CiderWorks today, from 6 to 8 p.m. at 118 Elliot where MacArthur will read and sign books available for sale by Everyone's Books. Twenty percent of book sales will be donated to Peoples, Places, and the History of Words in Brattleboro, Vermont, a Words Project. Half of WhetstoneCiderworks' profit and all donations at the door will also support the Words Project.

The Words Project is a three-year, town-wide research initiative directed by five partnering organizations—Marlboro College, Brattleboro Literary Festival, Brattleboro Historical Society, Brooks Memorial Library, and Write Action — who have joined forces to celebrate the Brattleboro area's rich and undersung history of writing, publishing, printing and words. Under the auspices of a National Endowment for the Humanities matching grant, the Words Project will produce podcasts and maps for bicycling, walking and driving tours, as well as a heritage book chronicling the four-year project's findings, and will support dialogue around the humanities through this unique collective community creation.

Snow date is Jan. 13. For updates and details visit and For more information about the fundraiser contact

MacArthur will also be at the Northshire Bookstore, 4869 Main St., Manchester, at 6 p.m. on Jan. 20, and at Next Stage Arts, 15 Kimball Hill, Putney, with Vermont Poet Laureate Chard DiNiord and Lauren Markham, author of "The Faraway Brothers" on Jan. 27 at 7 p.m.

Cicely M. Eastman may be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 261


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