Page 32: Short Takes on 10 Vermont Books
Seven Days writers can’t possibly read, much less review, all the books that arrive in a steady stream by post, email and, in one memorable case, a team of jingling reindeer pulling a sleigh. So this monthly feature is our way of introducing you to a handful of books by Vermont authors. To do that, we contextualize each book just a little and quote a single representative sentence from, yes, page 32.
Inclusion here implies neither approval nor derision on our part, but simply: Here are a bunch of books, arranged alphabetically by authors’ names, that Seven Days readers might like to know about. And this month, because Santa brought us so many books, we’re giving you a double helping.
Bradley A.F., self-published, 337 pages. $12.99.
Noting multiple ear piercings and black fingernails as a sign that Jexe had a non-conformist streak, Valerie leaned in.
When Jexe, a transgender woman and lifelong metal fan, moves to small-town Vermont to teach troubled kids, she hopes to find an environment more accepting than her ultra-religious Midwestern origins. To her surprise, the publicly funded school is steeped in conservative Catholicism. Jexe’s use of death metal lyrics in the classroom soon has her colleagues calling her a demonic influence, even as a figure from the past threatens her new life.
The psychological acuity and wit of this novel propelled me past page 32 and all the way to the end. In addition to sensitively portraying Jexe’s search for love and self-acceptance, Lamoille County-based Bradley A.F. creates antagonists who aren’t “Church Lady”-style stereotypes. Especially memorable is Father Donnelly, who drowns his genuine soul searching in a daily bottle or three of vino and “didn’t think he had an age-related cognitive decline. Rather he had more of an age-related giving a shit decline.” Faith has many forms in this nuanced take on the coming-out story.
Sam Clark, Rootstock Publishing, 290 pages. $16.95.
[H]e had taken to the water, to boats, fishing, and every other activity that can be done on a big lake.
Builder and cabinetmaker Sam Clark is based in Plainfield, but his intimate knowledge of northwestern Vermont — specifically its waters — prevails like a central character in The Inland Sea. Though Clark has penned several books on design, this is his first mystery novel.
Make that mysteries: Clark’s plot — and Detective Fred Davis’ conundrum — centers on a missing man who is presumed to have drowned 18 years earlier. That is, until he turns up freshly murdered on Lake Champlain’s Osprey Island. Why did Paul Brearley walk out on his wife and son, what was he doing for all those years, and why did he return to the family camp in the winter? Moreover, who killed him and why? (Oddly, Clark reveals much of this in early chapters, but a crew of Vermont detectives still has to figure it out.)
Like fellow Vermont author Archer Mayor, Clark dives deeply into his characters’ psyches and employs rich observations of place. The Inland Sea is a promising debut, and this reader hopes for a return of Det. Davis.
Gary D. Hillard, self-published, 127 pages. $9.95.
I found the story unsettling, hinting as it did at a darkness inside the marmot race.
Flossie Underoak has led a simple yet full marmot life. She has been a good mother to her 31 pups, passing down the folklore by which all marmots are raised, and she keeps a tidy burrow under a very old oak tree. But as she approaches the twilight of her marmot years, she finds herself wrestling with some big questions, such as: What is the meaning of marmot existence?
According to his bio, retired teacher and prolific author Gary D. Hillard “loves marmots,” which seems like an understatement. The Last Summer of Flossie Underoak imagines an entire marmot universe, complete with marmot gender politics (“I don’t know what it is about male Marmots that makes them feel like king of the castle,” Flossie muses) and a marmot literary canon that serves to uphold a (spoiler alert: tenuous!) marmot status quo.
Robert Karp, self-published, 286 pages. $13.95.
He wasn’t sure why, but her aggressive affect encouraged Dark to want to try to find a way to remind her of the risks of over confidence.
Lt. Donald Dark of the Vermont State Police is leading the investigation of a fellow trooper gunned down on a Lamoille County road. A former narcotics officer who came to doubt his efficacy against Vermont’s drug epidemic, Dark can’t shake the feeling that something about this case isn’t right. Worse, he’s obsessed with the attractive, mysterious lawyer who bailed out his suspect — whose only crime, she argues, was driving the wounded officer to the hospital.
It’s unclear whether the Williston-based author, an emeritus faculty member at the University of Vermont Larner College of Medicine, saw Donnie Darko before choosing his protagonist’s name. But Karp, author of three previous books, clearly enjoys colorful monikers: His combative defense attorney is Alice Madstern.
Readers of gritty crime novels will spot some obvious flaws in Karp’s latest — notably, that no accused cop killer would be released on bail, let alone permitted to leave the state. Nevertheless, it’s encouraging to see the good doctor, a retired geriatrician, keeping both his mind and ours active by spinning local whodunits.
Anne-Marie Keppel, self-published, 172 pages. $7.99.
We’ve been keeping her body cool as best we can in this heat so we can bury her in the morning.
Billed as an “Irish American Faerie Tale,” The Death of Faefolk is death doula Anne-Marie Keppel‘s latest effort to help people come to terms with and even find beauty in death. Following the Northeast Kingdom-based author’s first book, which was a more straightforward guide to caring for dying people, this novel introduces five young people who come together after the untimely demise of a stray dog they all cared for.
The story is set in some kind of parallel present, where there are SUVs but no cellphones, and includes forays into a magical land called Lantern Leaf. It’s packed with unsubtle social justice messages (“The whole town has done racial sensitivity training … We’re safe,” a young girl reassures her mother in the first chapter) and mentions of sustainable products, reiki and meditation. Keppel demonstrates considerable creativity in advancing her goals of death education and normalization.
S. Lee Manning, Encircle Publications, 330 pages. $17.99
“He was born in Russia, but he’s very much an American.”
In Trojan Horse by S. Lee Manning, Kolya Petrov, the Russian-born American described in the page 32 quotation, is tracking a bad man: Mihai Cuza. We know Cuza is bad because he’s suspected of plotting meltdowns of nuclear power plants around the world. And, he’s a direct descendant of Vlad the Impaler. Why more international espionage thrillers don’t invoke Dracula remains a mystery, because it’s a nifty device in this briskly paced and explosive novel.
The first in a series starring Petrov, Manning’s debut announces the Elmore author as a creative new voice in the genre.
Ray Padgett, Bloomsbury Academic, 168 pages. $14.95.
Artists like The Vaselines and The Meat Puppets would gain larger audiences from fans like Nirvana covering them than they ever had in their heyday.
It’s a neat gig, covering cover songs. And Burlington-based Ray Padgett has made it into an art form and mission. In 2007, he launched the blog Cover Me. That led to his 2017 book Cover Me: The Stories Behind the Greatest Cover Songs of All Time; each of its 19 chapters explores the backstory of an iconic remake (e.g., Joe Cocker’s “With a Little Help From My Friends”). So Padgett was a natural to tackle the landmark tribute album I’m Your Fan: The Songs of Leonard Cohen.
Rolling Stone declared Bloomsbury Academic’s 33 1/3 series “ideal for the rock geek who thinks liner notes just aren’t enough.” Indeed. For a book that measures less than five by seven inches, I’m Your Fan is a formidable trove of deeply researched facts. Padgett explains the emergence and evolution of the tribute album before diving into the 1991 French-produced record featuring popular artists of the time. Its laudatory treatment of Cohen’s songs resuscitated his career and elevated “Hallelujah” to standard status (John Cale performs it on the album). Cohen fans will want to jump down this rabbit hole.
Robby Porter, Bar Nothing Books, 461 pages. $16.
The blues didn’t save me but music did, in a way.
Robby Porter is very Vermont. He’s a furniture maker and renewable energy entrepreneur. He contributes essays and op-eds to VTDigger.org on topics from hunting to the failings of capitalism. In writing Concrete and Culture, an essay collection and his second book, he set out on a mission to record everything he knew.
Porter writes the introduction in the form of a letter to his children: “Stories are perhaps the most enduring human creations … After 53 trips around the sun, this is what I’ve got.” In the essay that includes our page 32 sentence, he explores his attempts to make music with various instruments and the freedom he found thereby to make mistakes. Other topics include “How to Split Wood,” “Vegetarianism,” “The Purpose of Life” and “What Food Will You Bring to the Potluck?” If you need more dad advice in your life, this book is for you.
Jan Reynolds, Lee & Low Books, 32 pages. $18.95.
When we can save any wild species, we sustain the entire beautiful web of life on our planet, which in turn supports us all.
Jan Reynolds has been around the world documenting her experiences for publications such as National Geographic, as well as her own books for kids and adults. In her new children’s book The Lion Queens of India, the Stowe-based author, photographer and mountaineer takes young readers to Gir National Park, a wildlife sanctuary in western India.
Geared toward kiddos ages 6 to 8, The Lion Queens of India is chock-full of color photos of people, animals and scenery snapped by Reynolds and others. The globetrotting writer describes efforts to preserve the endangered Asiatic lion — a species once abundant in southern Europe and southwest Asia — through the eyes of real-life forest ranger and “Lion Queen” Rashila Vadher.
The short book gives a name and a face to the conservation effort and offers age-appropriate lessons in geography, ecology and culture. Educators: Check out the teacher’s guide on the publisher’s website for discussion questions and activities.
Richard B. Smith, the History Press, 224 pages. $23.99
A covered bridge with the roadway supported by steel or timber beams (stringers) underneath the roadway that go in the same direction as the roadway is not an authentic covered bridge.
Woe be to the flatlander who dares label a covered bridge authentic when its stringers are strung in the wrong direction. Here in Vermont, we have rules about that sort of thing — literally, as it turns out. These and other nifty revelations fill historian Richard B. Smith‘s latest book, Vermont Firsts and Other Claims to Fame.
A current Vermont Historical Society trustee and former Manchester Historical Society president explores the myriad ways in which Vermont is historically unique, with an eye toward Green Mountain innovation. From Ethan Allen’s capture of Fort Ticonderoga (America’s first victory); to Vermont’s abolition of slavery before any other state in the Union; to Grace Coolidge’s status as the first (and only, barring a surprise from Dr. Jill Biden) first lady to own a pet raccoon, Smith’s facts surprise and inform.