(Reviewed by Kirstin Merrihew JAN 12, 2009)
This George Bailey's life isn't so wonderful. The 2000 dot com bust forces him and his family to undergo painful financial contractions. George is also worried about his son, Rob. The teenager doesn't see worth in himself and George wants to find a way to reach him. Feeling adrift, George returns to Abbeville, home to his ancestors, to remember his grandfather's life there.
Karl Schumpeter grew up in this farming village in Illinois in the waning part of the 19th century. He learned to fly fish up in the North Woods when his father sent him to learn the logging business with his Uncle John. Karl emulated his uncle when he returned to Abbeville by "thinking big." He built a modern grain elevator and installed a dynamo for electrical power. He was the town banker and the sheriff for a while. Karl was at Verdun during the Great War and when he returned was able to exert leadership that kept the town isolated from the devastation of the Spanish influenza. Karl's expansive business philosophy could not, however, withstand the Great Depression. As George notes, "It had never occurred to me that one day I might be wiped out by the market the way Grandpa had been."
Karl did his utmost to shield his bank depositors and his overextended brother, but his guilt over his own bad judgment prompted him to docilely accept a plea bargain from a vindictive district attorney, who, when they were young, had wanted to marry Cristina, Karl's wife. After nearly two years in prison, he returned and "purged himself through sweat." Gone was his determination to take risks for the sake of progress and personal enrichment. Instead, he took simple jobs: he became the industrious school janitor and the postman. George, in reviewing his grandfather's life, sees the parallels. "Money can be like fire," Karl said once. George, caught like his forebear, in a serious economic downturn, understands the simile.
In France during World War I, a priest told Karl, "In this life God's grace is nothing you earn, nor is punishment the proof of sin. This is the first great mystery, and it is only made bearable by the second, which is love." Karl remembered those words twenty years later when he was about to enter the state prison, and he thought, "Maybe a man could only live if he didn't fight the forces that tossed him about. Maybe he could learn to love them as he was supposed to love God."
Abbeville considers the cycles that humanity rides. It considers how much is the aggregate of human error and how much are effects beyond human control. It does this in luminous language that pins us into the highlights of Karl's life and how George and Rob may learn from him. This novel is filled with sterling insights about the human condition and how the beauties of the natural world may be the balm and the correction for our tendencies to exalt ourselves and our abilities to influence our environment and our time. The lessons of fly fishing trump those of empire building, if you will.
- Amazon readers rating: from 4 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from Abbeville at Unbridled Books
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- Convergence (1982)
- Fragments (1984)
- Mass (1985)
- Legend's End (1990)
- The Best of Jackson Payne (2000)
- Abbeville (June 2008)
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- New York Sun review for Abbeville
- January Magazine review of Abbeville
- Chicago Tribune review of Abbeville
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About the Author:
Jack Fuller is a graduate of Northwestern University and Yale Law School. He has published six critically acclaimed novels and one book of non-fiction about journalism. He has been a legal affairs writer, a war correspondent in Vietnam, a Washington correspondent, and a Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial writer.
He began working in journalism at the age of 16 as a copyboy for the Chicago Tribune. Along the way he has worked for the Washington Post, Chicago Daily News, City News Bureau of Chicago, and Pacific Stars and Stripes. He left journalism for law briefly when U.S. Attorney General Edward Levi asked him to serve as his special assistant in the Department of Justice. At the Chicago Tribune he served as editor of the editorial page, editor, and publisher. When he retired, he was president of Tribune Publishing Co.
Three of his novels have been included in the University of Chicago Press’s distinguished Phoenix Fiction series. In 2005 he retired from a career in newspapers to concentrate on book writing.
He lives in Chicago, Illinois with his wife, Debra Moskovits.