William F. Weld Stillwater

ISBN 13: 9780156027236

Stillwater

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9780156027236: Stillwater
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At the heart of this beautifully rendered novel is the story of fifteen-year-old Jamieson, a farm boy who finds first love with the unforgettable, dreamy Hannah. At the same time, life as he knows it is unraveling around him--his town and four neighboring towns will soon be flooded to create a huge reservoir.
In a world facing obliteration, some citizens take refuge in whiskey or denial, some give in to despair, some preach hypocrisy, and others decide to turn a profit on their fellow citizens' misfortunes. As the seasons turn during the towns' final year, events spin out of control. It is Hannah, finally, who opens Jamieson's eyes to wider possibilities and helps him taste a measure of revenge on the men who sold out the valley towns.
A significant step forward in William Weld's already notable writing career, Stillwater illuminates nature's magnificence, man's inhumanity, people's courage, and the destiny of place that is characteristic of America.

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About the Author:

William F. Weld is the author of the political satires Mackerel by Moonlight and Big Ugly. He was the Republican governor of Massachusetts from 1991 to 1997 and is a former federal prosecutor. He lives in New York.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

The Swift River Valley

WHEN I was fifteen years old, I fell in love for the first and hardest time, I had my first tastes of inhumanity, and I watched every person I knew lose everything.

In a brief time I had the good fortune to see it all: the life that was lived in the five towns when we thought it would go on forever, the rumor of the plan to flood the Valley, the foreboding that grew like a fog around us, the destruction and flooding, and the aftermath. I could have lived ten lives and I would not have learned so much about endings and beginnings. The only other soul in the Valley who seemed to see it all was Hannah Corkery; she had had her share of endings and beginnings well before that summer.

They say in country towns, a man who dies today is buried in the earth where he's lain many times before; the man who marries today takes the same wife he's taken for generations. Perhaps that made the powerful folks in Boston feel it didn't matter if they buried our homes.

One thing I've learned: you don't get to live a life that's all your own. There are hands pulling you back, hands pushing you forward. If you don't pick up your feet and walk, you'll be carried along, with no say as to where you're going.

YOU would think nothing could prepare a child for what happened to us in 1938: the razing of our houses and farms, then the hurricane, then the flood. But I had had a sense for some time that events could go wrong. That was the way things were.

My mother ran off with a man to Pennsylvania when I was three, and I remembered not believing the explanations. I remembered watching from the window not long after as they brought my father in from the fields in a wheelbarrow. He had been killed in a threshing accident. They had folded him, so all I could see was his overalls. I recognized them well enough. I suppose it's as well I couldn't see more. I had woken up early from my afternoon nap and gone to the window in hopes of catching sight of some activity. Any sign of life would have been a diversion. Grandma saw me at the window and ran in the house and up to my room, engulfed me into her sobbing. She had on a gray calico housedress with pink flowers that I admired. I took in her scent. I thought it went with the dress. I accepted the fact I would not be allowed to go downstairs or outside. That was how things were. You lived life a moment at a time, at least in the Valley. Then one day there was a death and it ended, at least as far as you were concerned.

As the time for the flooding grew nearer, sometimes I dreamed my father was coming to take me away, to help me escape the water. I hadn't seen him in a dozen years. The fact that he was dead made it neither more nor less likely, to my mind, that he would return for me.

I never dreamed of my mother. It may be that I blamed her. It's odd how the father seldom gets blamed, though in my case his sin-being careless with the threshing machinery-was great.

Grandma's reminiscing at the dinner table gave me a sense of endings. She had enjoyed her days at the hat factory in Dana. The girls who worked there were given a free palm leaf hat for summer every year. That was as important to them as the rest of their annual wage. In her new hat she had not minded the trek along the main street to North Dana, to stop by the soda fountain and say hello to the boys who could occasionally afford to buy her a "white cow," vanilla iced cream and ginger ale.

The hat shops were all gone by the late 1920s. People wouldn't settle in the Valley once the Boston boys started talking about putting us underwater. Grandma found work at the Gee and Grover wooden box factory but said it wasn't the same. I supposed it was the same, but you like best the thing you do when you're young.

I could never work in a box factory. I don't understand why people put so much effort into creating objects and artifacts from scratch, in imitation of the world we've been given free. The finest cloth ever spun is burlap compared to a beaver's pelt. The most skillful machine work imaginable cannot rival nature's turn of the lathe. You can reorganize nature's raw materials, as I did with my birch bark canoe, but you cannot create them.

Grandma said every man and woman she knew would consider themselves first and foremost a citizen of the Swift River Valley, second a resident of Hampshire County, or Franklin, or Hampden, or Worcester. The rest of the state, and for that matter the rest of the country and the world, could take care of themselves. Presumably would. The people of the Valley knew one another, knew the seasons and crops and animals, knew nature's rhythms, and so knew what was right. I did not need to have it spelled out for me that the "Boston boys" understood none of these things, particularly not the last.

Grandma had been married to Bill Hardiman, by all accounts a voluble and generous man, who had died of tuberculosis at the age of forty. His brother, Ed, was nothing like him: begrudging, if anything. But Grandma often invited Ed over to the farm for meals, as he lived alone.

Grandma was quiet during Uncle Ed's speeches on the lost virtues of country living. If it was after dinner she might pick up the pace on her knitting a notch or two. She was a polite soul, not wanting to point out that Uncle Ed had spent his working life as a municipal official, sitting at a desk all day. He had been the town clerk of Enfield for thirty years.

One evening we were talking at table about the news that the Valley might be flooded. "The history of the Swift River Valley," Uncle Ed said, "is the history of man in God's world."

"The history of man in the natural world," said Grandma.

"The history of the Swift River Valley is the history of America," said Uncle Ed.

I hate to say it, but what Uncle Ed eventually did to the five Valley towns more or less proved that was true. America is grand and full, but people can be hard.
I grew up in the town of Enfield. Most of my friends lived across the line in Prescott or Ripton. We played Daniel Shays and General Benjamin Lincoln the way other boys played cowboys and Indians. Captain Shays, a decorated officer of the American Revolution, led the farmers' insurgency against the new government of the United States in 1787. He was a native of neighboring Pelham and our hero. General Lincoln, who had received Cornwallis's sword at Yorktown and handed it to General George Washington, may have been a hero in Boston. But he had hunted Shays down and so was evil incarnate in our play world. From the age of six or seven, Caleb Durand and I would dibs to play the part of Lincoln. That would give us license to practice a sneer.

Our towns had need of Captain Shays a century and a half later. That was when the government of Massachusetts announced a plan to send more men west from Boston, this time to flood the Valley to create a reservoir sixteen miles long, better to assuage the thirst of the patriotic citizens of Boston.

Caleb and Hannah and I understood what was being done to our families better than most of the grown-ups in the Valley. We had the history in our bones, having acted it out many times in the woods. We knew that having your hometown flooded is worse than having your family die, because there's nothing to visit, not even a gravestone.

I said to Hannah that attachment to the land is the same as attachment to one's ancestors, if you have family roots in a place. She held that they were different, because you have no choice but to be connected to your ancestors and your descendants, whereas you can always pick up and move. Not if you're attached to the land because of your ancestors, I said. And so the argument moved in a circle.

I learned a lot in 1938 about the surface of the earth: its folds and tissues, its dips and catchments. Of course, the water covered all that, covered Dana, Enfield, Greenwich, Ripton, and most of Prescott. Before they closed the locks at Winsor Dam, though, I could have led you to every cave, tunnel, quarry, and mine shaft in the Valley. Partly that was my own enterprise, mine and Caleb's; partly it was our good fortune in joining forces with Hammy, who was as comfortable below ground as above it.

When I was playing in the leaves or the mud as a child, sometimes I would pretend the earth was about to open and swallow me up. That would make me tingle. Hannah said that was the spirits' way of telling me what was going to happen. It turned out she was right, as usual.

When Captain Shays walked the earth, all the land in the Valley had been put to the plow. Everything was farms, seldom separated by more than a tumbledown stone wall or a hedgerow. In the time since Shays, the woods had flooded back onto the land, carrying along their cargo of wolves, coyotes, and catamount. You could chart nature's counterattack by the number of cellar holes in the woods: every one of them had marked the heart of a working farm.

As surely as ancient soldiers sowed salt in vanquished fields, nature leaves nothing to chance as it recaptures its territory. In cellars and foundations below the ground, vines and creepers were constantly at work to separate and dislodge the man-ordered stones. You can subjugate a piece of property easily enough, but if you don't tend it, nature's gods will wrest it from you in a twinkling.
I suppose I must have learned a bit at the Enfield school, since I went into teaching. You couldn't prove it by me at the time, though. I thought the lessons at school emphasized what was unimportant or dull. Or plainly untrue, like what they taught us in civics class.

Grandma encouraged me to read every day from the end of school until the beginning of evening chores. She had read me Kenneth Grahame's Wind in the Willows years earlier, and bribed me to learn by heart long passages from its seventh chapter, "The Piper at the Gates of Dawn." I took different lessons from this book every time I opened it. I was encouraged also to return to Conan Doyle's King Arthur, Ernest Thompson Se...

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Book Description Harvest Books, Orlando, Florida, U.S.A., 2003. Soft cover. Condition: New. No Jacket. First Paper. In 1938 Jamieson is fifteen and his life is unraveling around him. His small town and four others in rural Massachusetts are to be raxed and flooded to form a reservoir. Some locals find refuge in liquor, others give in to depair, and some try to profit from other's misfortune. Jamieson finds love with Hannah, who shows him wider possibilities in a poignant story of love, loss and courage.Published @ $13.00. Seller Inventory # 016313

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