Saturday, January 29, 2011
At the Concord of the Rivers
Ibus Press, Newton, MA
$25.00 Hardcover; $18.00 Paperback
By Rene Schwiesow
What better place for a doctoral student of history to wake up in than the past. Which is exactly where Anne Ipsen’s protagonist, Abigail Walker, finds herself in Ipsen’s most recent book, “At the Concord of the Rivers.” Abigail is a stressed student in the 1950’s whose professor believes that women will always quit their education to get married. And, indeed, Abigail is pulled between the work on her doctoral thesis and planning a wedding. Frustrated by her mother’s demands for the necessity of dress alteration appointments and an angry phone conversation with her fiancé, Abigail takes off for the Natick Historical Society and the haven of research.
However, a deer, a pothole and rain-slicked roads cause an accident that prevents Abigail from ever arriving in Natick. Instead, after a tree limb falls and renders her unconscious, she wakes to find herself in the 17th Century and mistaken for a young lad.
Is Abigail’s time travel to become a blessing or a curse? She vacillates between the good fortune of being immersed into the very way of life she had been researching and wondering how she will ever be returned to the 20th Century.
Ipsen’s own research serves her well in the telling of Abigail’s tale. With the turning of each page, we are drawn further into the life of 17th Century New England. Maps appear in our minds as Abigail and Paul Hosmer, a young part-Indian man with whom Abigail begins a relationship, traverse the countryside on horseback. The relationship that Paul and Abigail forge and the love that they find could prove dangerous to both of them once it becomes public knowledge. But, “At the Concord of the Rivers” is far more than an interracial love triangle that spans centuries. The ease with which disease may have spread in the 1700’s is evident as Abigail struggles to teach both healers and lay persons the necessity of cleanliness. The suppression of women, the ideology that denies them an education, rumbles beneath Abigail being offered a teaching position. The rigidity of Puritan Concord and New England springs to life through the clergyman, Tedious Thatcher; services at the Meeting House; and through discussions about the Salem Witch Trials. Ironically the kind, elderly woman who takes Abigail into her home practices herbology and employs what may be considered holistic measures in her healing of both New Englanders and Natives alike. Midwife, healer, and intuitive, Hannah is the pivot around which Abigail’s life now turns.
“At the Concord of the Rivers,” is indeed a historical work. Yet Ipsen’s creation of fictional character allows the history to unfold in a way that grants us our own experience with the 17th Century. Facts on education, politics, religion, and a woman’s place, become the undercurrent for the daily flow that binds the people to the land, their God, their prejudices, and to each other.
Rene Schwiesow is the co-host of Plymouth’s The Art of Words
Sunday, January 23, 2011
by Leo Racicot
Other than a lifelong attraction (beginning
with a French class field trip to Boston's Museum
of Fine Art with our teacher, Mary Ann Manning
Kennedy, in my sophomore year) to Impressionist
and Expressionist painters, Monet, Manet, Renoir,
Degas and van Gogh, I am hardly what you would
call an art hound, although once an older woman
and her much younger paramour in Chinatown's
Little Hong Kong told me I looked like the
Russian, Marc Chagall and tried to entice me
into a threesome but all I wanted or needed from
that little, magic eatery on that cold and lonesome
night was the egg foo young (no gravy). And I never
recall feeling one way or the other about the Fauvist,
Henri Matisse. So I still do not know what compelled
me to take a chance and a bus to see if I could get into
the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Henri Matisse exhibit.
This was in about 1993, and winter because it was bitter,
bitter cold; no gloves or hat or extra sweater were of any
use to me as I stood in the freezing cold of Fifth Avenue
and 82nd Street hoping to get a gander at what all the
cultural world was a-buzz about. At best, I expected an
attractively put-together package of the artist's output,
nothing more. When a line monitor announced to the
crowd that the exhibit was reaching capacity limits for
the day, I was so angry, I spit. And I know that something
cosmic charged me to stay in that line, something well
outside myself, and to shiver and stomp my feet against
the frustration and ennui for what seemed like days praying,
actually praying that I would be one of the lucky ones to
make it through the door and land a ticket.
* * * *
Words come slowly for describing "Madame". She had
a pouty, lipsticked mouth that formed French words the
way a vagina forms enticements. Her eyes were shimmering
lapis lazuli, sparkly, alert, still the prettiest blue eyes I have
ever seen, and her soft, brunette flip -- so popular then --
lent her a "Coffee, Tea or Me" "Come Fly Me" 60s stewardess
air (on flights going only to Paris, of course!), as did her winsome
figure which she always decorated to perfection with fashion skirts
and clicky dress-up shoes. My crush on her went way beyond
sex, for it extended its arms around the language she was
teaching. I am sure as a summer's day is long that it is only
because she was my high school French teacher that I later
chose French as my major in college.
Not only was she my French teacher my freshman year
but oh! Eureka! my sophomore year as well. My ticket stub
to heaven could not look any better than did that September
sophomore class schedule with her name once again printed
on it though this time around she was "Mrs. Kennedy", not
the "Miss Manning" of the previous term. It was a happy
but sad year that year; "Madame" became pregnant ("enceinte")
almost right away and announced a leave of absence that was
to extend past the end of the school year. So no more "Madame".
All of the color went out of the sky, and the classroom as
> in walked Doris H.R.H. Bourgeois-Herlihy, a looker, too, and
a genuine eccentric but not "Madame". I was devastated,
as young boys who understand themselves little, and Life
even less, will be. For when I waited outside her classroom,
in the darkened school hall of a late fall afternoon, hoping to
be able to say goodbye, and miracle of miracles, she put out
the light and emerged, pretty as a package, carrying in her
frilly, little arms a bouquet of cherry-red roses, and smiled
widely at me, "Hello" and then "Au revoir", I felt a thunder
of revelation in my stomach; I loved her not because
she was female but because I was female, and that my
real colors bled for men, not women.
"Madame" disappeared down an empty hall, and I
knew that all my future was to be taken up in the
pursuit of and ultimately failed attempts at bedding
* * * *
In the year of the Matisse exhibit, no less than three
infatuations had come crashing down on me, all of them
aborted in mid-flight, unconsummated, and all of them
for musicians who it took me years to realize make glorious
music but are usually totally fucked up in the head when it
comes to romance. I needed healing, and I needed to find a
way to live again...
Had I opened myself to it, I might have shared a collective
ecstacy alongside my fellow museumgoers but I walked away
from that and convinced myself I was alone with my joy.
Here, inside the exhibit hall, my eyes, overcome by rapture,
swallowed the colors the way Madame Kennedy's mouth
had swallowed French. I never knew colors could have such
sound, such bold and unceasing reverberation.
The walls radiated color. I was covered in it.
It was lifting me up off the ground Life had thrown me down on.
I even saw my darling mother resurrected for me, as a twin in the picture,
"Woman Before an Aquarium". I was brought back to some forgotten
garden of feelings, blossoming with ghosts both living and
gone, and it was springtime again in me. Matisse had
a secret in his throat that he was more than willing to tell:
"Live! And live joyously!"
"There is no more to be said for loving another person
than for loving the whole world", my friend, Quentin
Crisp, wrote me in a letter, to try to mend my broken soul.
There is maybe no lasting bandage that romance can make,
no white knight on a white horse to lift you from the saddle
to his arms. But we can love ourselves. Again and again,
if we open up to it, there is art and language and literature.
Creators and what they create are our safehouse against
Again and again, there is resurrection!
Again and again, there is Matisse.