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Spooks Branch, a human history story

Spooks Branch was a singular place in settlers’ loreby Rob NeufeldImportant editorial note:This is a significant historical story that is also, in parts, personal and controversial.  It is about a few families who settled a particular cove and played out their heroic and complex legacies in ways that interacted with place and time.  You don't read this kind of story much because people don't like to expose themselves or stir up trouble, even a little.  This caution makes history classes boring…See More
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The Rise of Asheville by Marilyn Ball

History of the "Asheville 1000" and the 1970s renaissance                       Let’s not miss the history of Asheville’s renaissance, Marilyn Ball’s new book, “The Rise of Asheville,” advocates.            She’d come here in 1977, making her one of the advance guard of “artists, entrepreneurs, and off-the-grid…See More
Nov 20
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Century-ago woman's apple cake recipe

Mmm, them apples in Beaverdam coveIn 1972, Helen Nelon wrote about the traditions of old-time Spooks Branch, off Beaverdam Road.  Here's what she said about her use of apples in a cake.(The full story of Spooks Branch will appear soon.)There were apples for delicious cider cooled in the spring "dreem" (drain), apples for frying for cold winter days, and for special days there were dried apple sauce fruit cakes.These cakes were made of very thin, sweet dough with dried apple sauce spread between…See More
Nov 18
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Nov 16
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Dignity is the key to Richard Russo's inspiration

So funny, and yet so exposing--Richard Russo's geniusSnakes on the lane            In Richard Russo's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Empire Falls, the protagonist, Miles recalls the time his father, driving, had accelerated into a box on a highway.  “What if that box had been full of rocks?” Miles asks.  Unfazed, Max quizzes his son about what he would do about the box.  Max says he'd stop and look in it,  “What if it was full of rattlesnakes? “ his father asks.            The verbal match…See More
Nov 14
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Nov 13
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Nov 12
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Humanize the history--especially with Civil War--writes acclaimed author

Writer illuminates tangled web of Civil Warby Rob Neufeld             David Madden has written a book, “The Tangled Web of the Civil War and Reconstruction,” that deserves special attention.            First, there’s Madden’s background.  In 1992, he founded the U.S. Civil War Center in New…See More
Nov 12
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Nov 11
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Nov 10
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Coming attraction--Singleton at Malaprop's & City Lights for Calloustown

George Singleton's latest collection of stories, Calloustown...features the folk who try to survive in a place that has little to offer besides a Finger Museum and a taxidermy petting zoo,It's funny, but also tragic and angry.  The review, "Love-hate humor cries in Calloustown," appears in the Asheville Citizen-Times, Sunday, 11/15/2015.  Singleton's at Malaprop’s Bookstore, 7 p.m., Wed., Nov. 18; and at City Lights Bookstore in Sylva, 3 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 21.Here's an excerpt from the…See More
Nov 10
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Juniper Bends Quarterly Reading at DownTown Books & News

November 13, 2015 from 7pm to 8pm
Our very special Autumnal edition starts at 7PM and is sure to be a lively and vibrant set, with featured writers Randi Janelle, Tina FireWolf, Logan Parker, and Annabelle Crowe. Two of our readers have new books out, and as always there is wine flowing by donation. Hosts Lockie Hunter and Caroline Wilson look forward to seeing you there----remember, your wellbeing depends upon it.See More
Nov 9
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Love and Mercy ~ Up On Roan Mountain

My family lived and loved up on Roan Mountain and in the surrounding mountain areas, and this is their story. It's woven into a tapestry that weaves down through the years, before the days of the Civil War and up to present day. They were…
Nov 9
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It's All Relative--50 WNC women write about family

Family life as perceived by 50 WNC authorsby Rob Neufeld             If you have biases against small press books or anthologies of local writers’ work, I recommend you lay them aside and take a look at “It’s All Relative” (Stone Ivy Press), 52 stories and poems by 50 WNC women authors writing about family.           …See More
Nov 6

Madden’s London Bridge re-creation sings of ruin

by Rob Neufeld

See interview.


            “David Madden has written his masterpiece,” Ron Rash advances on the jacket of Madden’s new novel, “London Bridge in Plague and Fire.”  I find myself stepping back from this frame to look at Madden’s life achievements, a fertile universe of imaginative adventures regarding which it’s hard to compare apples and pomegranates.

            “London Bridge” is not only the most liberated of Madden’s journeys, it is also a fetid commentary on the state of lust and sin in the world that had preceded our era of intellect and spirit.

            That it takes place in an otherworldly environment, a community of warrens perched above a rushing, commercial, odorous river in a time of violence, plague, disaster, and superstition, adds to the head trip.

            Many characters—including Daryl Braintree, the 17th century poet-chronicler of London Bridge; Peter de Colechurch, 12th century architect of the first stone bridge at the crossing; and Lucien Redd, the 17th century villain forged by rape by soldiers during Cromwell’s revolution—are riveted by the stances of their own as well as the bridge’s shafts.

            Madden’s fascination with the teeming life of the bridge before its demolition in 1831 flowers into a profusion of impressions, with plot taking a while to assert itself.

            Braintree, Madden’s alter ego, comments after one journal entry, “Just before I go to bed I will enter in this diary my own thoughts, feelings, imaginings about the Bridge.  No rules….My nocturnes are events.  Are they poetry?  Time will tell.  Or my mistress, Musetta.”


Reading David Madden


            Pausing on the landing of this paragraph in this review, I feel like John Cusack in “Being John Malkovich.”  Except that entering Madden’s mind through his fiction is like entering a portal to many different minds.

            In Madden’s previous novel, “Abducted by Circumstance,” we enter the mind of a woman in upstate New York as she witnesses what she thinks has been the abduction of a another woman, and, through an act of imagination, counsels the abductee on how to forestall and dissuade her attacker.

            In his 1996 novel, “Sharpshooter,” Madden enters the mind of a haunted man looking back twenty-plus years to his service in the Confederate Army under General Longstreet.

            “Cassandra Singing,” Madden’s 1969 novel, is a deeply Southern creation, featuring a restless young man and his sister, an over-imaginative, guitar-playing, 13-year-old, washed in the romance of literature as well as the blood of Christ; and confined by rheumatic fever.

The singing girl re-emerges in “London Bridge,” as Lucien has a supernatural vision of an altered version, “not just sad-sounding now, but distracted, mad, savage, almost screaming the song, like Csssandra in Troy.”

            Madden’s roots in Southern literature go back to an upbringing in a poor part of Knoxville, and a lifelong reading of Southern greats, including William Faulkner, Thomas Wolfe, and Knoxville author James Agee, about whom he wrote the book, “Remembering James Agee.” Faulkner’s “Absalom, Absalom!” is the greatest of novels, Madden proposes in his study, “Touching the Web of Southern Novelists.”

            A few years in the Merchant Marines and in the Army in the 1950s widened Madden’s scope, as did his growing library.  His hunger to encompass non-Southern imaginations resulted in books about such various figures as James Cain, Wright Morris, and Nathaniel West.

            We tumble through Madden’s productivity to end up at the door of Nonesuch House, the antiquarian bookstore on London Bridge in the garret of which Daryl creates “an echo chamber of communal voices.”

            The mind within a mind format of “London Bridge” makes it Madden’s masterpiece in one sense for it is his attempt to represent the prodigious activity of his imagination.  Madden’s background and type of imagination makes him a distinctive figure in literature.


Now, to the plot


            The dates, committee reports, poems, and journal entries that populate the first 75 pages set up, first, the story of de Colechurch’s safeguarding of Archbishop’s Thomas á Becket’s murdered body; and then the 17th century story, involving Lucien’s diabolical role and that of Morgan Wood, a London Bridge youth who went to sea to work off his father’s debt and became closely acquainted with Lucien.

            Lucien came on board in Surinam and occupied the hammock above Morgan’s.  Morgan relates his memories of the Bridge to Lucien; and Lucien reveals, “You do know, do you not, that only the sacrifice of a female virgin child can appease whatever pagan gods still exert influence over the fate of Bridges everywhere?”

            In Calcutta, a young seaman boards, speaking of plague spreading to Amsterdam.  He’s thrown overboard.

            Heads impaled on London Bridge’s gate remain there from pre-Restoration days.

            Blythe, a 13-year old secret whorer, and her friend, Gilda, a virgin, frequently leave their fathers’ shops to frolic on the bridge, the clocks of their victimhood ticking.  Doom is in the air.

            All of the action comes to a head at once, after the fire of 1666, and you come away wondering, “Have I experienced the real thing?  Do I now understand how people at the time of Puritanism and post-Renaissance excess could have become so horrible?”

            Briantree notes that diarist John Evelyn wrote that London resembled Sodom. 

            Madden, making the character analogy, writes about Lucien’s latest intentions, “Like plague, like fire visiting the City, Lucien Redd had visited the mind and body of Morgan Wood, to sicken it, to incinerate it.”

            Like Lucifer in John Milton’s 17th century classic, “Paradise Lost,” Lucien claims the spotlight.  Madden’s excavation of the body and soul of London Bridge reveals a roiling co-dependence of good and evil.


London Bridge in Plague and Fire by David Madden (U. of Tenn. Press hardcover, 358 pages, 29.95)

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