While the story settings in The Insistence of Memory are fictional, I did have some real-life geography in mind when writing the book. Namely, the city where I grew up: Ashtabula, Ohio.
That setting choice had less to do with events in my own past and more to do with it having the right elements for the story I wanted to tell. At least, as well as I remember. I no longer have family in Ashtabula and have rarely gone back to visit.
Note: this post mentions some events in the book but avoids major spoilers. If you’d rather read the novel first, you can pick up a copy here.
Like Ashtabula, the fictional town of Parkview has seen better days. It “exists” on the shores of Lake Erie, in the heart of the Rust Belt. While it was once a thriving port city, its economy has steadily declined.
During the events of The Insistence of Memory (set in 2012), Parkview has deteriorated far beyond the main characters’ childhood years. Dilapidated shopping centers stand mostly empty, local businesses struggle to stay open, and older neighborhoods slowly crumble.
Of course, Parkview boasts some charming areas as well. There are quaint shops by the lake and nicer neighborhoods where doctors, lawyers, business owners, and other professionals live.
Joanne, Jeff, Eleanor, and Andy are not part of that professional class but are better off than many in town. Even if that means getting by without much to spare.
They can afford to live in an older yet relatively well-maintained neighborhood, largely because Joanne inherited her house from her grandmother and Eleanor was given a good deal on her home by a family friend.
“The Lab” in Bristol
Set in the fictional town of Bristol, “the lab” is the research facility where Jeff and Andy found work after high school. Though there aren’t a lot of details about the lab in the book, I imagined it as a well-funded private research facility.
The lab is set outside of a small city in a quiet suburb about 30 minutes from Parkview. While the lab is not based on an actual facility, it is a nod to the research being done in Cleveland institutes like Case Western Reserve University.
The lab brings in a diverse mix of well-educated scientists. Many of them live in nearby apartment complexes, some in housing funded by the lab, and few would ever have a reason to visit Parkview.
Although Parkview is not far from wealthier suburbs like Bristol, it is cut-off by the many rural miles in between.
The main highway in and out of town cuts through both farmland and dense woods. Landon’s Hollow is set in one of those wooded areas outside of the town limits.
This setting is (very loosely) based on a place in Ohio called Tinker’s Hollow.
Tinker’s hollow was once the site of a machine shop and foundry, though both closed in the 1920s. It is now a lovely wooded area which has a reputation for being haunted.
I rarely went to Tinker’s Hollow myself but grew up hearing the ghost stories. (If you’re curious about its history, I recently stumbled on this YouTube video about it.) What I remember most about Tinker’s Hollow is its green metal bridge set deep in the woods, which explains the bridge in The Insistence of Memory.
When I first came up with the premise, I imagined the story in The Insistence of Memory being set on the east coast. Yet as I outlined the book, its fictional settings began to look more and more like the area where I grew up.
Maybe that’s fitting for a first novel.