Unpublished Novels

Benedictions: a 19th century novel

Chapter One:  The forgotten order of things

         This is what I remember. But someone else could say, “I know that place, and you’ve got the names all wrong.”

         I’d have to tell them that they’re mistaken. In any case, I don’t remember them being there.

         They might answer, “The doorway was on the left. That woman was a blonde.”

         I’d have to suggest that they were standing at a different angle, and the lighting was not as good.

         This all happened before mobsters replaced cowboys at the movies, and long before government Indians and stock market brokers took over the business of gambling. I was a nobody then, the same as I am now, only then I was a nobody with promise. The unsecured credit of my youth once opened doors which have since been securely locked.

         Reflecting on that time, I am often aware of the forgotten order of things. We all tend to place remembered matters in a sequence of importance determined by the lives we are presently living, and too easily forget the value of things we once held so dear. We judge our past selves by the logic of the present, as if we might have foreseen the unfolding of things we could not possibly have known in advance.

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Chinese Coffee

Wherein I am reminded of myself

[Another sip of A Republic of Books, the novel in progress, for your enjoyment]

John Yu has been coming in the shop since he was a kid. He is still a kid, but bigger. He went to MIT. He’s at the University of Pennsylvania now, though his parents still live in Brookline, where he grew up. By the time I finally took notice of him he’d been coming in the shop long enough to know the way things worked and he approached me one day, unexpectedly.

He held a book out and asked, “Why do you carry this?” Just like that.

I was kneeling in an aisle trying to maneuver a couple of extra volumes into a space too small. Our heads were about on level.

“Why shouldn’t I?”

“That’s a question, not an answer.”

He had me there. read more…

Smelling guns and firing roses

[Another titillation from A Republic of Books, the novel in progress, the rest of which may be found elsewhere on this ethereal site]


Smelling guns and firing roses

a killing with kindness


‘There are more booby traps in the original Constitution of the United States than in a congress of naked women—not intentional, to my reading, but the by-product of the authors’ inexperience, never having done this sort of thing before in public and thus lacking the judgment to avoid such mistakes—including those greater matters such as slavery and women’s suffrage, and the more subtle ones such as the stultifying tenure of incumbency, the easy corruption of public office through ‘pay to play,’ the false front put up by supposed ‘checks and balances’ weighted like a thumb on a butcher’s scale in favor of the Presidency, and the so-called ‘electoral college’ meant to avoid the uneducated stupidity of the mob by preserving the idiocy of the powers that be, each of which have wrecked their own special havoc—but the one we have to fear the most once more, at this particular juncture of our history, when all the others have already played themselves out in the worst way again and again, is the power given to the Supreme Court by itself (at the behest of Chief Justice John Marshall) in 1803, in the case of Marbury vs. Madison. This was an unconstitutional act by every measure, and set the standard for all the extracurricular judicial hijinks to come.’

That was the key element in my blog of that morning. I figured the bit about boobies would raise the appropriate hackles among the humorless pseudo-feminists. read more…

Miss Wheatley

[A tasty new collop that speaks for itself, taken from the work in progress, A Republic of Books]

However, my favorite scene in that book is the encounter between Henry Knox, Phillis Wheatley, and John Peters, her future husband. I liked it so much that I have already written a play from it!


Scene: December, 1773. Henry Knox’s London Bookshop. A young black woman, Phillis Wheatley, small in stature and neat in domestic dress, softly enters, and closes the door quietly. She is carrying a package. Henry Knox, behind his counter and doing bookkeeping, pretends not to take notice. A black man, John Peters, as tall as Knox but thin and wearing shabby laborer’s cloths, with a leather apron, is already in the far aisle, stage left, browsing the history books there. The woman slips into the aisle at the far right, and sits on a stool, taking a volume from a lower shelf. read more…

Thoreau Again

 [ Yet another morsel of John Finn to be eaten alone or with the greater meal]

“The thunder had rumbled at my heels all the way, but the shower had passed off in another direction; though if it had not, I half believed that I should get above it. I at length reached the last house but one, where the path to the summit diverged to the right, while the summit itself rose directly in front. But I determined to follow up the valley to its head, and then finding my own route up the steep as the shorter and more adventurous way. I had thought of returning to the house, which was well kept and so nobly placed, the next day, and perhaps remaining a week there if I could find entertainment. Its mistress was a frank and hospitable young woman, who stood before me in a dishabille, busily and unconcernedly combing her long black hair while she kept talking, giving her head the necessary toss with each sweep of the comb, with her lively, sparkling eyes full of interest in that lower world from which I had come, talking all the while as familiarly as if she had known me for years, and reminding me of a cousin of mine. She at first had taken me for a student from Williamstown, for they went by in parties, she said, either riding or waking, almost every pleasant day, and were a pretty wild set of fellows; but they never went by the way I was going.”

It was that short bit, only a small fragment of recollection within the larger work, which had inspired me to write an entire novel about the young Thoreau. I had wanted to know more about that black haired young woman, but the Thoreau of the journal pressed on. read more…

Mr. Chekhov

[a tasty portion from another novel, John Finn, written a while back. It seems to work by itself.]


It seems to me that if a novel isn’t about a man and a woman then it ought to be about why it’s not about a man and a woman. I’ve come to this conclusion rather slowly over the years.

Still, even if it’s true, the thought irritates me. It’s a little too pat. Wasn’t this just the kind of thing Chekhov liked to say?

Appropriately, this was what played in my mind as I drove up Interstate 93 toward Lebanon, New Hampshire on Tuesday. I was trying to come to an understanding of the character I had created for my eighteenth century loyalist, Izaak Andrews, without insinuating my own experience into the situation—No, that’s too strong. Insinuation is fine. You have to write what you know. What I did not want was for the situation in my own life to blind my understanding of what might have happened to Izaak. He was becoming a much more sympathetic character than I had originally imagined him to be.

He had lost so much for his beliefs. His home. His country. And he had lost a daughter. read more…

Who killed Phidias?

When simple murder is not enough

[and yet another bit from the seemingly never ending novel A Republic of Books, that is the ‘work in progress’, more of which is to be found elsewhere on this ethereal site.]

I once wrote a novel about Phidias. There is almost nothing to know about the man but what you’ll find indirectly in Plutarch’s Lives, written centuries after. He was a sculptor, painter, teacher, warrior. But before him, art was of the stylized sort you will see on urns at the museum with two-dimensional cartoon figures chasing each other on the circumference. After him Aphrodite might step from the pedestal in front of your very eyes and plant a kiss upon your lips. At least, that’s the sort of thing I thought she might do while spending my hours at the Museum of Fine arts as a kid. And a few times afterward as well. Phidias simply changed the world that we might know—all that we could know. read more…

Let us consider Cleisthenes

A fragment of marble from Mount Pentelicus

[being a small sum of the novel in progress, A Republic of Books]


Nevertheless, at the end of some days, the weight of such matters does add up. Or perhaps I’m just getting too old for it. Finally alone, and at home, I found myself considering my situation in the larger context. It is too easy to see things subjectively. I was not at the center of this wheel, after all. I was simply at an edge and thus getting more contact.

It was some comfort to me to remember that when Benjamin Franklin was my age, he became a revolutionary. Not overnight, mind you, but in one afternoon.

Certainly he had entertained thoughts of American independence, but not as the sort of government it would soon become. ‘Independence’ was more a relative thing at the time. The meaning of the word was ambiguous and used to mask many permutations of what was, at the bottom line, a subjugation to Crown and Parliament. read more…