I have just ordered this novel by Geoffrey Craig, one of whose stories I edited for New Works Review during my year as managing editor, so I am well acquainted with the quality of his writing. I am chomping at the bits waiting for Scudder’s Gorge to come in the mail so I can begin to read it. But why wait for my review when I can show you this excellent one that the author just sent me?
Scudder’s Gorge, by Geoffrey Craig, Prolific Press, 290 pages. ISBN #978-1632750556. Price: $16.95 paperback, $8.95 Kindle format.
Reviewed by Sandy Raschke, Fiction Editor / Calliope, A Writer’s Workshop by Mail /Spring 2016 issue (#151) /www.Calliopeontheweb.org.
Calliope’s readers are familiar with Geoffrey Craig’s short stories, as several have appeared in our pages over the years. Although he has had a verse novel and novella serialized in a literary review, Scudder’s Gorge is his first full-length novel.
Scudder’s Gorge is a masterfully told story of family, unrequited and romantic love, hate, secrets, joys and tragedy, and exposes the depths of what man is capable of doing to his fellow man.
Craig’s elegant prose (evocative of the late Wallace Stegner), is impressive; he is like an artist, first using a broad brush to create the background, then employing a smaller one to fill in with details. The vivid imagery he uses to describe the Vermont landscape gives the story a genuine sense of place and atmosphere, and sets the tone for this family saga spanning almost one hundred eighty years and six generations. It is a history that sometimes repeats itself, with sadness and agony. Several themes are reiterated throughout Scudder’s Gorge: tolerance vs. bigotry; peace vs. war; expiation for previous wrongs, and respect for all people.
An enigmatic Prologue begins the story, of an elderly Japanese man taking a walk in Hiroshima on the morning of August 6, 1945, stopping at a small temple after several air-raid sirens go off. But, unable to see any evidence of the bombers, he goes outside again…facing the bright flash in the sky…
Then moving back in time, Craig unveils the story of the Scudder family and others who settled on a land grant from the Territory of Vermont in 1795. Out of the wilderness, Lucas Scudder and ten settler families created farms and community. They live in peace, trading with nearby Native Americans, the Abenaki. That is until 1799, when Philomena, the daughter of Lucas Scudder, falls in love with a young Abenaki man she meets in the woods while picking berries with her sister Carrie. Eventually smitten by Susuph, she initiates a sexual relationship, which they carry out in secret places, unknowingly witnessed at times by Sean Reynolds, a mentally-challenged young man from the settlement. Philomena and Susuph want to marry, but an accident changes everything. After their last tryst, Philomena loses her footing and tumbles down a hill.
While Philomena lies unconscious at home, Lucas Scudder and eleven men from the settlement take revenge on the Abenaki, based upon their prejudices and Sean Reynolds’ misperception—that Philomena was raped and battered by Susuph then dumped in front of the Scudder’s cabin.
The settlers raid the village and are met with resistance; a shot is fired by one of the Abenaki, hitting one of the raiders in the shoulder. The ensuing carnage leaves twenty-one Abenaki dead: all the young men, five women and seven children. The few survivors flee to the north to another Abenaki village, but the reverberations of the massacre will last long into the future.
Philomena awakens two days after the raid, and when she discovers that Susuph has been killed along with the other Abenaki, calls her father a murderer and cuts off all communication with him. Months later, she delivers a healthy baby boy that she names “Remember,” then dies within four hours of his birth. She has left her sister Carrie a letter, in which she describes the sins of her father and the responsibility of the family to see that such prejudice and violence never happen again.
Carrie marries and raises Remember as her own, and when she dies, she passes on Philomena’s letter to him.
The story moves from the first generation of Scudders slowly into the future, through recessions and depressions, World War I and II, the postwar era and the atomic age, into the late 1960s, and ends during a demonstration against the Vietnam War. And through it all, Philomena’s letter is passed on to each successive generation, a reminder to the Scudders of their responsibility to regard all of humanity without prejudice.
Craig’s deft hand and sensitivity regarding controversial but important social matters draws the reader in and keeps one turning the pages. Highly recommended.
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