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It is March, 1649, the end of winter in an English colony that resembles Massachusetts. Simon Willoughby, who has governed the colony for most of its 19 years, comes home from his first trip away after recovering from a winter illness. The challenge he wanted — perhaps his final one — looms in front of him.
While he was away, a troubled, disappointed woman lashed out at the schoolmaster in Botolph, the colony’s capital, for failing to keep a promise to help her and her common-law husband by finding work for him.. The schoolmaster dies that night and the authorities arrest the woman for practising witchcraft, a false accusation, and murdering the schoolmaster with a curse.
Willoughby must oversee the woman’s trial and also the trial of an indentured servant who faces a charge of theft and also wrongful accusations of buggery and traffic with the devil. To make the situation worse, the young deputy governor, eager for power, believes that the colony is infested with witches and wizards and organizes a posse to arrest innocent suspects and bring them to Botolph for trial.
The story concerns Willoughby’s efforts to defend people who have been wrongly accused, to tame the deputy governor, who has become his adversary, and to bring a spirit of balance and charity to the colony.
“The Pilhannaw” is based on an isolated case of witchcraft in Boston in 1649. All but three of the characters and most of the incidents in the novel are creations of my imagination. The story affirms one of the age-old tenets of our culture — that injustice and tyranny may have their time in the sun but right prevails in the long run.
Vincent Adair, a pioneering film director, arrives in Stilton Fields, an imaginary town in an imaginary American state that resembles Massachusetts. Stilton Fields is celebrating the 300th anniversary of its founding in the 1650’s. Mr. Adair wants to make a film that will revive his floundering career. He becomes convinced that he can turn the story of an early settler in Stilton Fields into the great and enduring film he dreams of.
Lydia Bowstreet and some of her grown children move to the town in colonial days after the death of her husband and in the aftermath of a theological controversy that took a nasty turn. The even-numbered chapters of the novel tell the story of Lydia’s role in the debate. They also show something about the lives of her neighbours, including her adversaries, and the community she lived in. This part of the novel is based on the Antinomian Controversy that took place in Massachusetts from 1636-1638. The central figure was Anne Hutchinson. I have changed all the names, added several characters, and taken many liberties with the historical record.
The other parts of the novel, the odd-numbered chapters, relate the experiences of people on the team of movie-makers Mr. Adair brings together and also the stories of a few folks who live in Stilton Fields and come in contact with strangers from Hollywood. These chapters also tell about sordid goings on that have nothing to do with the movie in what has been a peaceful, prosperous, exurban community.
“The Opinionists” examines American freedom and American creativity. In addition, it explores a theme that often recurs in my stories — that people who follow up on a determination to do good, to make the world better, to reform it usually pay a heavy price and walk a solitary, rocky path. If they persist, despite obstacles and their own shortcomings, and if they are willing to accept the burdens their missions impose on them, they often succeed in making their point.
Though not yet 30, Arthur Goodbody’s life has been at a low point since his wife died five years before. He works as a museum guard, hasn’t much money and few prospects. His social life takes place entirely at a bar in his neighborhood.
He writes poems and dreams about writing an epic. Just as he is about to strive for a new way of life, a minor devil named Mr. Octavius barges into his affairs and offers to bring Arthur’s late wife back to him if he will enlist in Octavius’s campaign to banish ideas of faith from human thinking.
Arthur’s story includes excerpts from his dreams, letters he writes to his late wife, his adventures with Octavius, and a novella length interlude in which Arthur writes about the life of a controversial 17th century American theologian.
This story examines two features of modern-day life, civilian and military. Carl Norberg is an artist who serves in the American army at the start of an Asian war. We also learn about the arts community in a large northeastern city, where Carl decides to start his civilian career. Can a man who’s not at home anywhere he goes use his talents to build a satisfactory, fruitful life? Can he find a woman to love and build a life with?
The United States has been on the losing side of a war in an Asian country called Kulon. A peace treaty has just been signed in Paris. A veteran named Carl Norberg now lives in an imaginary east coast city called Botolph and drives a cab while he launches his career as an artist.
He comes in contact with various people — other artists, a librarian, the host of a late-night radio talk show, his brother Eric who is in the insurance business, and the woman he falls in love with and marries. He works hard. His paintings, some based on his memories of the war, attract attention.He can look ahead to decades in the public eye as a respected artist. He attracts critics, however, people who resent the fact that he is an outsider, that he ignores trends and goes his own way, and that he is brash and unpolished. A thief steals a half-dozen of his pictures from a gallery; a gallery that he opens himself burns down. He keeps on with his work and develops into the mature artist he dreamed of being.
Norberg also writes a memoir about his service in Kulon in which he tells about his friendship with a Kulonese artist and the artist’s family. He describes his work as an interpreter, which includes helping to interrogate prisoners of war. He takes part in a manoeuvre to destroy enemy weapons in the Hills of the Tigers and spends a brief time as a prisoner. His memoir ends as the war heats up and American forces withdraw from the area they have been occupying.
Norberg’s memoir alternates with chapters about his life in Botolph and the people he gets to know there. One of my purposes in writing “The Hills of the Tigers” has been to tell the story of one former soldier who recovers from the withering experience of warfare and is able to lead a productive, fruitful life and become an inspiration to others.
The Wakemans live in Botolph, a large city in the northeastern U. S. The novel tells about their various efforts to pull themselves out of mental, physical, and spiritual slumps. The story includes three interludes that take place in a society that has gone haywire with technology and the paranormal. One of the characters wonders if reality is disintegrating.
“The World, the City, and the Wakemans” is a chronicle set in the early 1980’s about a family who live in a large city in the northeastern corner of the United States. Each member of the family wants to get out of a mental or spiritual or physical trough.
Amos Wakeman leaves his job in an insurance company to set up a shelter for disadvantaged children.
Caleb, a university teacher, wants to move a stagnant career ahead by bringing his studies of a little-known Central Asian country to a wide academic audience.
Diana, his wife, wants to leave a rehab hospital where she has lived for a year after suffering several strokes.
Mary, sister of Amos and Caleb, leaves a string quartet in which she plays viola for a temporary job in a bakery to get experience of ordinary life.
Stephen Hope, half-brother of Mary, Amos, and Caleb, has done well with a chain of restaurants he started. He puts his business success aside to run for mayor of the city.
Lucas, oldest son of Diana and Caleb, breaks away from his academic predilections and joins other family members to fight a gang of thugs that causes trouble for his father and uncle.
Other family members also figure in the story,
Three novella-length interludes tell about the imaginary adventures of young folks who resemble the youngest Wakemans in a future society that has gone haywire with technology and the paranormal.
This story takes place on an imaginary university campus in the American Midwest in the shadow of the fear that the world might be destroyed and during the worst scandal to hit the university in decades.
Daniel Morley, a painter in his 60’s, and his wife Sonja, a photographer, come to stay at the school, in whose neighborhood Daniel spent his childhood and hasn’t seen for more than 40 years. Along with working on paintings and photos of the area and reconsidering a trauma from Daniel’s youth and trying to save their marriage, they become involved with the doings of a demonic secret society that is responsible for the campus scandal.
Daniel Morley, a painter in his 60’s, and his wife Sonja, a photographer, leave their home in Europe to live on a university campus in a large Midwestern American city. This is the neighborhood where Daniel spent his childhood and left with his mother in his teens. He hasn’t been back for many decades. The story follows several threads.
1. After years of hard work, Sonja and Daniel look for renewal in both their marriage and their professions.
2. An account of past events, sometimes turbulent, that brought Daniel and Sonja to their current situation.
3. A survey of the pictures Daniel paints while he is at the university.
4. An account of his health problems.
5. A coterie of idol worshipers on campus cause a tragic scandal that touches many parts of the university.
6. A survey of the actions of the some the people whom the scandal effects.
Guy Ridley, well-settled in late middle age, contends with several challenges.
He wishes to rebuild his relationship with his wife Gladys, from whom he has been separated for years. He works to resolve problems at the university that he believes the school’s leaders ignore. Because of urban renewal projects, he may lose the used bookstore he owns on the outskirts of a large university in the American Midwest. He struggles with a form of mental illness that brings demons into his consciousness. An avid reader, he begins to imagines that Cervantes’ Don Quixote and his squire Sancho Panza will relieve some of the burdens he carries. He finds satisfaction in his friendship with people who are sympathetic to him and in pieces of short fiction he writes, which are included in the novel, about the university and its neighborhood. Publication
Guy Ridley, in his late fifties, runs a used bookstore on the outskirts of a large university in the American Midwest. He has a few troubles:
Separation from his wife,
The onset of a mental illness that takes the form of oppression by demons,
Longstanding problems at the university continue to plague him
Life without steady, loving companionship on the margins of a a large city weighs on him.
Despite all this, he doesn’t give up on life or work. He strives to build up the arts in the local community. He takes pleasure in helping people who come his way. He reads constantly and has written two dozen sketches about aspects of university life that are included in the novel. He works to end the trouble that sent his wife away from the university.
A brief concluding section, written by a former employee at the bookstore who’s now on the university faculty. tells how Guy comes very close to disaster. Does he escape or sink?
This novel explores several themes:
The need for love,
The persistence of the past,
The value of stories.
Readers who love Cervantes’ “Don Quixote” may find this story very interesting.
Brief Lives – Loretta freeman persuades her friend Bruce to write a drama about a 19th century American entertainer who told stories, performed magic tricks, wrote songs, and got into deep trouble when he strayed from his calling. Loretta coaxes her parents, who run a theater company to produce the play. The bulk of the novel gives short accounts of people involved in the production or who are interested in it. The purpose of “Brief Lives” is to illustrate a common feature of our existence. We compensate for the brevity of life and the inconveniences and sorrows that can come every day with acts of creativity.
Do you like stories about the theater?
If so, “Brief Lives” may be a novel for you. It tells about the production of a new play that a small company puts on. Each of the chapters gives a brief account of the experience of someone involved in the production or is interested in it. Two interludes look at the subject of the play from different angles from the main narrative.
Do you like American history?
If so, “Brief Lives” may be for you. The play tells the story of a man with a few talents — for comedy, magic songwriting — who performs in carnivals and fairs in the American Midwest around the time of the Civil War. He gets into serious trouble after he strays from his calling and becomes involved with gangsters who present themselves as forward-looking businessmen. What does he do to get out of his trouble?
Do experiments with narrative suit your fancy?
If so, you may enjoy the way this novel is put together, not a straight-ahead narrative, but from different points of view of people who encounter the 19th century showman and his wife.
The purpose of the novel is to show that we often compensate for everyday troubles and the brevity of life by our creativity, which ranges from ordinary inventiveness to works of surprising originality.