The novel is the bright book of life, wrote D.H. Lawrence who ought to know, having written many serious and important ones. There is a thrill of expectation in opening a novel to find what it has in store for us. One never knows. What will it say? How will it say? What world and what people will it introduce us to? What will it reveal? I say this both as a reader and a writer. All of these questions are present as I begin thinking about and composing a novel. If it’s hard work, and it is, it’s minimized by the excitement involved. Where will the novel go? Who are the characters? What do they signify? What will be revealed, if anything?
As an American Novelist I have 24 books in print, including a book of short stories and a book of plays. They address a variety of themes, a key one being: What is it that people seek? I can answer that question looking over what I have written. Essentially, we seek freedom, escape, a chance to start over, a chance to remake ourselves. We may be stuck, we may feel trapped and want to break out in new directions. Sometimes we wish to overcome shattered expectations. These are some of the directions and themes of my nine novels. The territory they cover is the experience of people in distress. How these striving, imperiled characters work things out, successfully or not, is for each reader to experience and discover. Let me introduce you to a key work of my 20th century literature, a trilogy of novels called AMERICAN ECSTASY. Here I confront some of the pertinent themes.
In volume one called THE MAN IN THE MIDDLE, Luke Hall is an unhappy, dissatisfied suburban husband. Blond and handsome, he has every opportunity at Eagle Insurance to climb the ladder of success. However, he is unable and unwilling to manage his discontent with his wife, family, job and colleagues, particularly, Dante Obini, his dark alter ego. Taking a clue from the birds he watches over the cluttered Long Island Expressway he drives every day, Luke transforms himself into an eagle, a majestic American bald eagle, and soars into freedom. He flies free of the chains around him but quickly discovers he is endangered by environmental pollution which poisons his brain, trapping him in hallucinations. As the surprised reader is both shocked and amused at Luke's ironic predicaments, he will also be witness to an American history readers have encountered before. This twisted history involves fantastic versions of, for example, Ben Franklin, George Washington, John Wayne, and Ho Chi Min (yes, he worked in the U.S. when he was in exile). During periods of 'normalcy', when Luke resumes his human shape, he returns to his suburban life to observe the worsening conflicts at home and at Eagle Insurance.
Volume two, STATE OF FLIGHT, continues the bizarre experiences of Luke Hall, eagle, as he embarks on adventures in hysterical history. These involve Aaron Burr, Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln, among other historical figures. At times 20th century people of note, like Agent Orange, movie director John Ford and actor John Wayne, interact with 19th century people. Toward the end of this volume, the author, August Franza, is killed. A new writer, Raguan Z. Faust, is hired to write volume three of AMERICAN ECSTASY.
In the third and final volume, WHERE IS THE GOLD?, Luke baptizes himself for new and possibly more hopeful roles. He conjures Rachel Landauer, an old girlfriend, and flies west with her in search of new experiences for him and, for Rachel, redemption. Here they encounter industrial strikes, the battle of Little Big Horn, the building the transcontinental railroad and many scenes of mental derangement caused by environmental pollution. Luke also meets George A. Custer, P.T. Barnum, Leon Trotsky, Whittaker Chambers and Alger Hiss. He has a teaching stint in California at the suspect College of the 21st Century. The novel and the trilogy end when he meets Zamattia Ueberruaga, a Basque-American woman of many delights. Falling in love with Luke, Zammattia helps Luke make peace with his troubled world. He finally gets free of his tortured and bizarre eagleness.
Luke has drifted through and encountered an American history that has been reconfigured, revised, and hysterical. In his deranged state, all that is considered real became twisted and, often, hilarious.
AMERICAN ECSTASY is a strange and piercing version of American history and culture. It communicates memorable, bizarre and satiric insights about contemporary America and the American past.