Vermont Author Pens Fiction Novel Based in Local History
The retired Williams College professor of English and literature said his novel, "Right Here," centers around a house and its history.
"It's about people and the way they develop, but what makes it a little bit special it is very tightly fixed in time and space," he said. "I called it 'Right Here' because I sat at my desk and wrote it at a certain longitude and latitude and that's where the book takes place. Anyone reading it will recognize places, mountain ranges, roads, climate and, to a certain extent, people will recognize time."
Grudin said the book is anchored in Stamford, specifically in a fictional house built by a ship carpenter in the year 1816 after fighting aboard the USS Essex during the War of 1812 and later finding profit as a privateer.
The story is really not about the carpenter, but rather the house he built, its inhabitants and those affected by it over the last century.
Grudin said many characters come and go during the vast stretch of time the book occupies but one of the main ones is a woman who lives in the house in the 1920s who is the carpenter's great-granddaughter-in-law.
"She is a very unusual woman living in this house by herself right after World War I," he said. "Her husband is gone, he went to the gold rush and never came back, and her son is in the war ... she is actually my favorite character. I like her a lot. She's a little nutty, very brave and smart."
His third main character is an old man in the late 1990s who is trapped in his own personal hell.
"He is in exiled from Vermont, and he is in the worst place he can imagine, Miami," Grudin said. "He can't get out, and he wants to go home to Vermont but they have him locked up in an old folks' home."
Grudin said part of the inspiration for the novel came from his own home, which is almost 200 years old and has handmade beams in kitchen.
"From the time I have lived in that house, I have looked at those beams and have said 'somebody did that.' You can see all the marks and you know this happened on a particular day, by a particular group of men who squared those beams to put them up there," he said. "It made me start to think about all of the things that have probably gone on in my house ... people were born there and people probably died there."
He said his book explores this idea of a location absorbing history and never really letting it slip into the past and what that means for the future.
"It is as if a place can soak up what happens in it, that is where you get stories about haunted houses," he said. "Past events don't simply have consequences. They have ramifications. In the broadest sense, I am writing about acts of violence, that may be pretty isolated, but that have ramifications that go out for generations and affect those who never knew about the initial act."
He said he rooted his story in actual history and readers will recognize national events and local landmarks and stories.
"The history is researched as carefully as I could have researched it over the years," he said. "In general, World War I and World War II enter into this and I had to do a lot of research on local history and folklore."
Grudin, who has lived in the area since 1970, said he has a great admiration for the area that helped inspire his book. He said he hopes to capture the essence of Berkshire County and Southern Vermont.
He said the locals now and then were "tough ingenious people" who honored their home even in the direst straits.
He pointed to the year his fictional house was built, 1816, and said it was known as the year without a summer because of a volcanic eruption that caused climate abnormalities.
"The farmers in Southern Vermont where already just hanging on by their fingernails and when this happened many of them had enough and went west," he said. "These guys were just trying to put food on the table and it's a terrible place to farm. It was tough but people stayed."
He said he hopes readers of all kinds are engaged by the book and it helps widen their perspective.
"I have been told by those who have read the book that they now look out their kitchen window differently and are more aware of what is out there," Grudin said. "I hope people that live here that read this will look out and see things a little richer than before and I hope people that read this that are not from here will want to come visit."
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