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Woodsburner: A Novelby John Pipkin
Synopses & Reviews
They shall say I ought to have known better. This is what occurs to Henry David as he squats on the bank of Fair Haven Bay, a third of the distance from Mount Misery to the center of Concord. The gossips and flibbertigibbets, with little else to occupy their minds, shall call me wastrel and rascal. Henry has heard these insults before, dismissive whispers trailing just within earshot, but the words surprise him now, coming as they do seemingly from the ether, mute and without cause. He wants only to light a small fire, enough to cook a simple meal, nothing more, hardly an undertaking momentous enough to give rise to premonitions such as these. He tells himself he will record them later in his journal, along with the other indiscriminate thoughts that flit through his head like so much pollen. He is certain that one day he will make something of them, or will, at least, belatedly reckon their import.
The wind sweeps a chattering funnel of dead leaves between his knees and teases the brim of his straw hat and Henry tries to concentrate on what he is doing. Without standing, he lifts his left foot and drags a brittle friction match across the sole of his boot, then watches the red tip flare and expire in the chill wind before he can transfer the flame. It is not unusually cold for the last day of April in Massachusetts, but the wind is strong and there has been no rain for weeks. The trees surrounding Concord and covering the sloped terrain of nearby Walden appear stunned by the drought, reluctant to reveal the swollen green buds still waiting for spring to arrive. Henry recalls the screechings of their little boat as its keel scraped along the riverbed earlier that morning, and he wonders, briefly, if he was meant to heed these sounds as a warning.
He is not alone. Standing above him, Edward Sherman Hoar, his sole companion, holds aloft a string of fish and examines the oily glistening of inanimate scales. A trickle of water drops from the string and lands on Henry's shoulder. Edward grins in apology. Henry had hoped for solitude today--an occasion to explore the uncertainties he has had little time to consider while helping his father make pencils in the long sheds behind their home--but he needed a boat for the excursion, and he prefers not to row alone, lest the loneliness remind him that his brother John will never again take a turn at the oars. Edward Sherman Hoar is several years Henry's junior, the younger brother of one of Henry's former classmates, the son of Squire Hoar (one of Concord's most esteemed patriarchs), and Edward admires Henry, looks to him for guidance. Edward calls himself a disciple of nature and he is an earnest student, eager to benefit from Henry's experience.
In all likelihood, Henry thinks, Edward will never need to learn self-reliance with ax and rope, since the inheritance that awaits him is one to be coveted. But Edward is not entirely without burdens. He has recently returned from California trailing clouds of disgrace, and Henry understands that Edward wishes to put his indiscretions behind him, wants only to resume his life in New England, to finish his final year at Harvard and savor the long, promising foreshadow of days yet unspent. Anxious for Henry's approval, Edward says he will not become a banker like his father, says he will refuse the political legacy that is his due, says he will leave that to his older bro
On April 30, 1844, Henry David Thoreau accidentally started a forest fire that destroyed 300 acres of the Concord woods. Against the background of Thoreau's fire, Pipkin's ambitious debut penetrates the mind of the young philosopher.
Henry Thoreau accidentally sets fire to three hundred acres near ninteenth-century Concord, Massachusetts and affects the lives of three people, a Norwegian farmhand, a bookseller and aspiring playwright, and a preacher, as they respond to the disaster.
About the Author
JOHN PIPKIN was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland, and he holds degrees from Washington and Lee University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Rice University. He has taught writing and literature at Saint Louis University, Boston University, and Southwestern University. He currently lives in Austin, Texas with his wife and son.
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