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Rob Neufeld posted a blog post

The Land Still Speaks film and Culture Vulture fest, Oct 30

Culture festival features film about mountain eldertsfrom press releaseThe Center for Cultural Preservation presents a film festival that highlights mountain heritage, Jewish heritage and African-American heritage on October 30th at the Thomas Auditorium at Blue Ridge Community College.   The festival will feature three films, including the world premiere of a new film, The Land Still Speaks to Us which includes the voices of mountain elders throughout WNC.  There will also be music by local…See More
19 hours ago
Mark de Castrique posted an event

Malaprop's Bookstore at Malaprop's

November 9, 2015 from 7pm to 8pm
Presenting new Sam Blackman mystery A SPECTER OF JUSTICESee More
Rob Neufeld's discussion was featured

A Chronology of Asheville and WNC Events in History

                                   IMPORTANT DATES IN ASHEVILLE HISTORY                                                                 by Rob Neufeld 1000: The Cherokee, who’d introduced maize agriculture to the region, began cultivating beans. 1540: Hernando De Soto led troops to East Tennessee through either the Hickory Nut or Swannanoa Gap, finding gold and copper and inspiring a succession of Spanish miners. 1663: Charles II bestows territory between the 31st and 36th parallels in America…See More
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

Root-diggers of Appalachia

People in the Lost Provinces were herb-gatherersby Rob NeufeldPHOTO CAPTION: Three herbal products offered by S.B. Penick’s, once the world’s largest herb distributor, its largest warehouse located in Asheville.             “Last week, during a research trip to the ‘Lost Provinces,’” Luke Manget said about the landscape…See More
Mark de Castrique posted a video

A Specter of Justice Preview

A Preview of the new Sam Blackman mystery to be released November 3, 2015
Oct 1
Rob Neufeld's discussion was featured

"Us versus Them" does not help fight against racism; worsens sectionalism

“Us versus them” is not good historyby Rob Neufeld             Writing about history and the complex lives that play out within it does not sell as well as team spirit, especially in this age of clicks and likes.            I recently confronted this truth when I wrote my article last week about the minds of our leaders in 1851. The word “slavery” was added to the headline to alert people to its relevance.  Seeing that term connected people to a cause they felt strongly about, particularly in…See More
Sep 27
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

Player of Games and the Millennial Mind

Player of Games reveals today’s game-changing mentalityby Rob Neufeld             There is something big happening in Millennial Generation literature, and I thought I’d try to get a handle on it.            To give an idea of one aspect of current thinking: I was at a gathering recently, plenty of youngsters, and I…See More
Sep 27
Julia Nunnally Duncan posted an event

Julia Nunnally Duncan Book Signing at MACA Building

October 10, 2015 from 9am to 1pm
Julia Nunnally Duncan will sign her books at the McDowell Arts Council Association (MACA) Booth at the annual Mountain Glory Festival on Saturday, October 10 from 9-1.See More
Sep 22
City Lights Bookstore posted events
Sep 22
Ann Miller Woodford shared their photo on Facebook
Sep 21
Ann Miller Woodford posted a photo

Deacon Chrisenberry -Berry- Howell (1855-1938) on horseback. From the collection of Purel Miller (2)

My maternal great grandfather, Chrisenberry Howell, who was called "Berry" Howell in Swain County. From the Purel Miller collection. Submitted by Ann Miller Woodford
Sep 21
James D. Loy posted a blog post

The skull merchant, the dead ape, and the narcoleptic mortician

Hello "The Read on WNC" readers:     I'm posting this note to announce the publication of vol. 3 in my "Loy's Loonies" series.  This one is called The Mortician's Road Trip and it's a bit more of a mystery than my earlier books. Here's a teaser for the story.     Upstate New Yorker Baz Rathbone makes ends meet by selling human skulls. By contract, he should cremate them, but he doesn’t. His little business comes to the attention of the FBI when a woman spots her late husband’s skull being used…See More
Sep 20
City Lights Bookstore posted events
Sep 19
Rob Neufeld posted discussions
Sep 19
Ann Miller Woodford replied to Rob Neufeld's discussion Terra Incognita: An Annotated Bibliography of the Great Smoky Mountains
"That East Tennessee Christian Association of Friends comment, especially bothered me, but it clarifies the view some folks from outside the region have about us even to this day.   … average intelligence...below that of colored…"
Sep 8
Ann Miller Woodford updated their profile
Sep 8

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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