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.