Home Arts Book Review: Thomas Christopher Greene’s ‘Notes from the Porch’

Book Review: Thomas Christopher Greene’s ‘Notes from the Porch’

As the title suggests, “Notes from the Porch: Tiny True Stories to Make You Feel Better about the World” (Rootstock Publishing, 2024) is a breezy, upbeat read. It is also moving, tender, and humorous, as author Thomas Christopher Greene saunters into very short, true stories, in contrast to his six novels.

“They say a good Irishman should be able to get a story out of a trip to the post office,” Greene writes in the Author’s Note. “COVID-19 stole so much. But one of the things it couldn’t steal was the power of stories. It turns out that stories sometimes find us. They are all around us if we are open to them, if we believe in magic, if we listen, and if we invite them into our lives.”

Greene, a Montpelier resident, founded the Vermont College of Fine Arts and for its first 13 years served as its president. These days, he owns Hugo’s Bar and Grill on Main Street and continues to write. His fiction has been translated into 13 languages.

Since Greene isn’t a gardener but owns a house with great gardens, it is fitting that the book begins with Neglected Garden and ends with Neglected Garden #2. In the first, a woman who had lived in his house for 28 years sees him writing on the porch as she walks by, so she goes over to chat. The gardens Greene had neglected had been her pride and joy, and the woman — who still lived nearby — asks if he would mind if she came over to work the gardens. “It gives me peace, she said. We live in a condo. A half mile away. The only thing I miss is the gardening.”

The woman takes her gardening seriously, and although she and Greene stay out of each other’s way, they become friends, and in the closing story, her husband, who had been reluctant to return to the Victorian house they had loved, stops by to see her.

“But it’s not true when they say that you can’t go back home again,” Greene observes. “But when you do, you might need to ease your way in the door.”

While the porch plays a central role in the book, since Greene often writes there and some stories arise from conversations he has with people coming by — such as an energetic, talkative seven-year-old, his “favorite neighborhood boy,” who appears six times — some stories are connected to his childhood, his cabin on a lake north of Montpelier, places he went on book tours, the Vermont College of Fine Arts, or other locations in town.

He begins a Cinderella story of sorts (which bears that name) by explaining that his book tours “tend not to be glamorous affairs.” Once on tour in Rhode Island, however, an assistant booked him a room at an inn on Narragansett Bay, where at every turn, he was given royal treatment, including an upgrade to an ocean suite and a new BMW to explore the coastline. During dinner, the owner — a dapper older man with a British accent — made a point of coming over to meet Greene and to talk about his books and movie adaptations, which is when Greene started to understand what had happened. No, he told the inn owner, I didn’t write “The Firm.” That’s where the Cinderella fantasy starts to fall apart.

There are a few precious, revealing encounters with well known people, including a series of meetings with the late Vermont poet, David Budbill, and a time Greene had a party at his house for John Turturro, when the Italian-American actor and filmmaker spoke at a VCFA event.

Perhaps the most humbling moment in the book occurs at a bookseller’s conference in Atlantic City, where Greene, on tour for his third novel, shares a table, advice, and encouragement with a nervous, first-time author whom he didn’t know. The guy had written a book about his dog. Good luck with that, Greene thought. I won’t spill the beans on how that turns out.

Greene writes endearingly about his two daughters, which might startle some who don’t know him well. In addition to his teenage daughter, about whom he shares some joyful stories, he writes touchingly about “Our Girl Jane,” his second daughter, who never in her brief, six-month life was outdoors or outside of a hospital, except once in an ambulance ride from Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in Hanover to Boston Children’s Hospital. Even that heartbreaking story gives reason to feel good about people.

Here I am, running out of space, and I haven’t gotten to any stories about Hugo, his hundred-pound fox red labrador, the Red Sox (“We were raised on the three Rs: reading, religion, and Red Sox.”), raising wolves, or strangers kissing on the street in front of his house.

There are 44 stories in this book, and 44 good reasons to open it.