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Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

Salman Rushdie come to Asheville with new novel

Atheist believes in genies, novel revealsby Rob Neufeld             Salman Rushdie’s latest novel—“Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights” (1,001 nights)—has permitted me to come up with a headline as wild as the one above because the book is so exuberantly and infectiously…See More
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Jan 31
Rob Neufeld posted a blog post

73 classic works about Appalachia going online

Key Appalachian studies publications now going onlinefrom press release, Jan. 27. 2016 Appalachian studies scholars and those interested in regional history will have greater access to out-of-print works thanks to a two-year National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Open Book Program grant totaling $88,000 awarded to Belk Library and Information Commons at Appalachian State University.  Pamela Mitchem, the library’s coordinator of digital scholarship and…See More
Jan 30
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

John Parris' home-grown prose

South of Sylva, back of yesterday: John Parris' inspiration             “For the life of me, I just can’t understand why folks stopped usin’ cradles,” John Parris’ 97-year-old maternal grandfather had told him 60 years ago.            The oil lamp, the buggy, and the spinning wheel—they all were replaced by things…See More
Jan 27
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

James Sturm expands scope of graphic novels

James Sturm blazes cartoon path to a new worldby Rob Neufeld             Why is it that when an author combines pictures with words, the medium is considered juvenile, like comics?  Words create literature; images, art.  Why, when you marry them, is it like pairing a milk cow with a mop?            Nothing against…See More
Jan 24
susannah eanes posted a blog post

The Writer as Pilgrim

Two articles leapt at my consciousness this week, both about writing. And suddenly, I know how to go forward from here. The first, The Price I Pay to Write, by Laura Bogart and published online in Dame Magazine, reflects on the difficulties of…See More
Jan 24
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

Tired of thrillers with no soul?

Why read a 1940 man-on-the-run classicby Rob Neufeld             After reading a classic novel, you might think, “Oh, look at this superior ancestor of today’s fiction.”              For instance, “The Power and the Glory,” Graham Greene’s 1940 thriller about political oppression in Mexico, exemplifies the…See More
Jan 17
Susan True updated their profile
Jan 9
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

Art of Grace by Sarah Kaufman

Dance critic applies grace to every moveby Rob Neufeld             It’s nice to find just the right word for something, especially when it sums up a main idea in your way of thinking.            That was the case with Sarah Kaufman when she’d first felt moved, nine years ago, to write her new book, “The Art of Grace” (W.W.…See More
Jan 9
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Jan 9
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Fire and Ice Roses interview with author/gardening blogger Kathryn Hall

Fire and Ice Roses has been interviewing gardening bloggers and gardening experts and were kind enough to include this short interview recently which was quite fun and very much appreciated! http://fireandiceroses.com/ask-an-expert-kathryn-hall/See More
Jan 5
Rob Neufeld posted a blog post

History in the making, January 2, 2016

History in the making: items of note, January 2, 2016It was reported in today’s print edition of the Asheville Citizen-Times that a new state law went into effect, requiring people who’ve filed for unemployment benefits to make at least 5 job contacts a week.  It had been 2.  How will that work?  Are there that many jobs for which a person is qualified?  Can you apply to the same job twice if it continues to be listed? Paul Bonesteel, noted Asheville filmmaker, revealed on Facebook that a…See More
Jan 2
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Local event of the day, Jan 1 2016

Tarantino, eminent domain, and emancipation Tarantino comes to townQuentin Tarantino’s New Year’s gore and gabfest, The Hateful Eight, is gutted by New Yorker reviewer Anthony Lane, who says that Tarantino toys with rather than explores history, using it “for boyish fantasies of revenge, as if enormous crimes could be undone, after the event, by lone and wanton acts of humiliation.” …See More
Jan 1
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Railroad history in Western North Carolina: a close-up and bottom-line look

Railroads in WNC: the perils, the people, and the profitby Rob NeufeldWritten in conjunction with exhibit, "How The West Was Won," in Rural Heritage Museum, Mars Hill University PHOTO CAPTION: The entrance to the railroad show at the Rural Heritage Museum is commanded by a mock-up of Climax engine…See More
Dec 24, 2015

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.

THE BOOK

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

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