Monday, May 2, 2022

"Vigil Harbor"

Julia Glass's books of fiction include the best-selling Three Junes, winner of the National Book Award, and I See You Everywhere, winner of the Binghamton University John Gardner Fiction Book Award. Other published works include the Kindle Single Chairs in the Rafters and essays in several anthologies. A recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York Foundation for the Arts, and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Glass is a Distinguished Writer in Residence at Emerson College. She lives with her family in Marblehead, Massachusetts.

Glass applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Vigil Harbor, and reported the following:
My novel Vigil Harbor takes place twelve years in the future and is narrated by eight characters, each with a distinct voice and perspective, so open up at random to various pages and you may feel like you're looking at a series of different stories (in a way, you are, though they are tightly interconnected). Page 69 lands you inside a key memory of a key character, Connie McKenna, a wife and mother in her thirties whose only sibling was killed on a combat tour in Afghanistan, mere weeks after his father died of cancer. Here she recalls the tail end of her brother's funeral, over a decade earlier:
...I half wondered if they would applaud after the deafening gun salute. Equally repugnant and surreal to me were the Vigil Harbor colonial reenactors, our self-appointed "regiment"—seven of them, uninvited—who, at the start of the ceremony, staged a salute of their own, their ridiculous muskets aimed at the clouds. The smell of gunpowder, intensified by August heat, made me retch.

Afterward, as people walked to their cars, Reverend Chalmers stopped me and put a hand on my shoulder. He said, "Caleb gave his life for our country, and he rests now in the strong arms of a loving God."

I shrugged off the unwelcome hand and said, "He did not give his life. His life was taken." I saw my mother being helped into someone else's car by two friends who, like her, had been recently widowed.

I skipped the reception at the VFW. I drove to the big, bland sports bar in Knowles, where I knew that the afternoon regulars, intent on the Sox, would give me a wide berth. On the way out of town, only by happenstance, I drove most of the route Caleb and I walked together for the two years we overlapped at the High. The route takes you right past Memorial Park, a shady green lawn where slabs of marble and granite bear the names of boys cut down by the endless scythings of war. I never fully understood why Caleb enlisted (never mind re-enlisted), and as I drove past the park, I wondered if the statues and plinths and their conspiratorial message of manhood and duty and sacrifice had wormed its way into my brother's heart as he passed by twice a day going to and from school, a place he had longed to escape.

From the bar, I called my best friend from college. While I had frittered away the two years after graduation by working for a gig agency in Boston (trying to figure out what to do with my art-psych major) and cutting hair—a self-taught skill with which I'd earned pocket money since high school—Harold had found a bonafide job as the production manager of a newspaper in Traverse City, Michigan. When he moved there, it was nothing more to him than a thumbtack on a map, but he was willing to take his chances. And he loved it....
The town of Vigil Harbor, both its colorful colonial history and its rugged coastal topography, exerts a strong influence on those who live there. This is by no means a war novel, yet looking at page 69 in isolation reminded me that the legacy of America's many wars, along with the illusion of patriotic pride in a righteous might, is a theme woven throughout the book. Connie, her husband, and their eight-year-old son, though they live in what appears to be a secure, privileged community (so far mostly immune to the perils of the larger world) will be caught, by story's end, in the midst of an explosive crisis caused by wider political violence.
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--Marshal Zeringue