I have a deep and abiding love of small towns full of weirdos. My favorite media (from books to movies to TV shows) revolve around tiny villages and close-knit hamlets filled with manipulative dwarves with a God complex, pretty bush pilots, and Kirk. Based on the sheer number of Hallmark movies set in similarly small, quirky towns, I’m guessing I’m not the only one who wants to pack my stuff and move to a fictional city.
I did the next best thing and moved to a real-life small town full of eccentric characters, charming gathering spots, and rogue livestock who seem to wander the streets with impunity. (Seriously, our town Facebook group is full of alerts about escaped cows and renegade goats, as well as the occasional flock of chickens taking over a tennis court.) For years, I’ve said my dream would be to live in some village in England (also acceptable: Ireland and Scotland) with thatched-roof cottages (think Kate Winslet’s house in “The Holiday”) where I can walk into the local pub on any given night, catch up on the local gossip and then stumble home free of fear from all but the coziest of murders.
If I believed in “The Secret,” I might say I manifested my dream of small-town living without realizing I was doing it. I can walk to our local cidery — though I tend not to during these long, dark winter nights — and hear all about the rodeo a longtime local property owner is dreaming up (and also the “Birds for Sale” sign that said property owner put up in the window of one of his vacant buildings). Sure, we may not be as quaint as a village in the Cotswolds, but what is, really?
Then I stumbled upon HGTV’s “Townsizing” podcast. I was, of course, immediately in… and found myself yelling back at the podcast as one guest talked about wanting to find a diverse, walkable small-town. “BRATTLEBORO, VERMONT!” I shouted, though no one could hear me except for my dogs. For some reason, all the talk of charming little towns got me thinking about the many fictional towns I’ve encountered in my 41 years, and which ones I would most want to live in. Here’s where I landed:
Gravesend, New Hampshire from “A Prayer for Owen Meany”
80 Front Street: If you know, you know.
I am a known Irving-head and it all started when a Barnes & Noble employee looked at my summer reading list and told me that if “A Prayer for Owen Meany” wasn’t the best book I’d ever read, I could come back and hit her with it. (She went unassaulted.) Most of the book takes place in Gravesend, New Hampshire (based on Exeter) in the 1940s – 1960s. In fact, many John Irving books place take place in some version of the town where he grew up. He’s not the only writer to call Exeter home; Joe Hill and Dan Brown both live there now. I don’t know if it’s the prep school or the fancy bean-to-bar chocolate shop, but writers really seem to love that town.
So, this summer, I made a pilgrimage to Exeter. These days it’s a bougie town filled with preppies who look like they somehow got their yachts up the Swampscott and are now in search of craft beer. But based on what Lara Bricker of the Crime Writers On podcast says (and writes) about her adopted hometown, I’m guessing it’s still a quirky place. I digress, though, as we’re talking about Gravesend, not Exeter. So… let me count the ways I love the home of wee, lil’ Owen and his best friend Johnny Wheelwright.
- Has a thriving community theater scene
- Tolerant of eccentric locals
- Harriet Wheelwright is the O.G. dowager countess
- Home to the possible second coming of Christ
- Streets are not safe for roving labradors
- Even the congregationalist clergy is full of creeps
- Little League games can get a bit scary
- Home to the possible second coming of Christ
Cicely, Alaska from “Northern Exposure”
When I was in college, my physics class was across the street from my dorm. So I would sit on my futon watching reruns of my then-favorite show, “Northern Exposure,” before sprinting to class when the credits rolled. It’s a classic fish-out-of-water tale that follows Dr. Joel Fleischman from Flushing, Queens as he goes to pay back his student loans by serving as the doctor for tiny Cicely, Alaska. Even as a (slightly odd) teenager, I wanted to move to Cicely and hang out at The Brick with Dr. Joel, eat a moose burger cooked up by Holling, chat about old movies with Ed, and talk philosophy with Chris. I could probably do without the blowhard Maurice, but in small towns, you have to take the good with the bad.
- Pretty decent medical care for such a tiny burg
- Being surrounded by the great Alaskan wilderness
- Feminist AF Maggie O’Connell and I can be friends
- “Chris in the Morning” should win all the broadcasting awards
- Shameless capitalist despot Maurice Minnefield
- The spring thaw seems like a tough time for everyone
- Dr. Joel’s constant whining
- Cold and dark AF for most of the year
Stars Hollow, Connecticut from “Gilmore Girls”
Do I even have to explain Stars Hollow? If you’re a Millenial woman, the answer is definitely, “Oy, with the Poodles already!” I’ve been to the “real Stars Hollow” and the Gilmore Girls Fan Festival, and I can tell you, there are a whole lot of towns that are more like Stars Hollow than Washington, Connecticut… and I’ve lived in two of them. A friend who was driving through Brattleboro, Vermont met me at The Whetstone (a brewery and restaurant right on the Connecticut River). I walked from my apartment to meet him there, and we were sitting on the roof deck when one of our locals started driving his pontoon boat made up to look like a steamboat and flying the Canadian flag went trolling by. “Do you live in Stars Hollow?” he asked.
Then, years later, I ended up in my current town in North Central Connecticut. Just last week I was at the Cidery when someone told me that an out-of-town friend uttered that familiar question: “Do you live in Stars Hollow?” The answer is always the same, “Not technically, but yeah, kinda.”
- Takes quaintness to a level not seen since “The Andy Griffith Show”
- Luke’s Diner (breakfast is my favorite meal)
- I already live in Connecticut, so it’s an easy move
- Babette & Miss Patty
- Taylor Doosey
- It seems to be completely lost in space (and maybe time), somehow near New London and also Woodbridge
- In theory, I like the idea of community events, but Stars Hollow may have too many of them
- Loralei and Rory are totally unhinged
Beartown, Sweden from “Beartown”
Listen, the point of Frederik Backman’s “Beartown” (or its follow-up “Us Against You“) is not to make small-town life seem idyllic. It’s quite the opposite, in fact. Beartown is a bleak place filled with hockey nuts, criminals, and the under-employed. It’s not a happy story, but it is probably one of the more accurate portrayals of life in a secluded place where everyone knows everyone. Benji Ovitch and his badass sisters are among my favorite characters in any book, and I would 100% book a trip to Beartown just to meet them. But could I live there?
- The Bearskin Pub
- You can probably see the Aurora Borealis
- A loosely organized band of criminals with hearts of gold seems like as good a form of government as any
- As far as sports go, hockey is pretty fun
- Democratic socialism
- Pretending I care about sports
- I’m going to have to take up hunting
- Seasonal affective disorder seems unavoidable
Dillon, Texas from “Friday Night Lights’
Listen, I know pretty much everyone who lives in Dillon is trying to escape it, but I may be the only person who was cheering when Tim Riggins bought his little plot of heaven, dragged some lawn chairs out there, and had a beer with Tyra. Frankly, owning your own business (Riggins’ Rigs) and a beautiful plot of land is the closest thing you can get to the fabled American Dream and Timmy did it! The rest of the town is a mix of used car salesmen on the verge of a heart attack, attractive young people, strip clubs, and the Taylors (every sane person’s #relationshipgoals). Is that enough to want to move there?
- Tim Riggins, Vince Howard, and Matt Saracen
- Tammy Taylor is the single best guidance counselor to ever grace the halls of a high school
- I’d get to vote in Texas and try to make a difference
Fictional Towns to Avoid
Not all of these towns are entirely fictional, but based on what I know of them from “IT” and “Little Fires Everywhere,” it’s best to avoid them. (Shoutout to Rebecca, who came up with this list!)
- Shaker Heights, Ohio – Too many Karens per square foot
- Derry, Maine – Deranged clowns and child orgies abound!
- Wind Gap, Missouri – Psychotic teens + institutionalized racism = hard pass
- Twin Peaks, Washington – The owls are not what they seem!!
- Forks, Washington – Too many teens looking for toxic vampire boyfriends
The Verdict: To Which Fictional Town Am I Moving?
Absolutely everyone I know is going to be shocked to hear the answer is not Stars Hollow. But, much like Rory, I have made my pro-con lists and after much deliberation I am going to choose the underdog.
I have been dreaming about shopping (and picking up my mail) at Ruth Ann’s since the ’90s. Maggie O’Connell may have done more to shape me than anyone in my own family. Frankly, it’s a wonder I didn’t become a bush pilot. I do tend to yell at annoying men much like she does, though. Every time I hear someone recite the Kaddish I think of the episode where an unknown Jew turns up dead and Dr. Fleischman tries to gather enough people to sit Shiva for him. None of this seems like enough reason to move across the continent, but since the town doesn’t exist and I don’t actually have to move, it’s “Cicely or bust!”
Sorry, Tammy. Maybe you, me, and Maggie can have some wine together.