Salutations to all of you, Connecticut Commies!
In a mood for some nutmeg? Today's guest of honor is a fellow Connecticut Commie and Penmore Press author Charles Monagan. His novel Carrie Welton is set in Waterbury, CT.
Eighteen-year-old Carrie Welton is restless, unhappy, and ill-suited to
the conventions of nineteenth-century New England. Using her charm and a
cunning scheme, she escapes the shadow of a cruel father and wanders
into a thrilling series of high-wire adventures. Her travels take her
all over the country, putting her in the path of Bohemian painters,
poets, singers, social crusaders, opium eaters, violent gang members,
and a group of female mountain climbers.
But Carrie’s demons return to haunt her, bringing her to the edge of
sanity and leading to a fateful expedition onto Longs Peak in Colorado.
That’s not the end, though. Carrie, being Carrie, sends an astonishing
letter back from the grave and thus engineers her final escape—forever
into your heart.
What sets Carrie Welton apart is the rarely used first person
omniscient narrative. Rarely do you see a novel in which the title
character not being the speaker. The same narrative model was used in
Jack London's The Sea-Wolf and Nabokov's Lolita. The
heroine of Charles Monagan's novel, Caroline Welton, becomes the object
of fascination to Frederick Kingsbury, a dutiful family man with an
equally dutiful and sympathetic wife. The Kingsburys become personally
invested in the emotional and social well-being of the troubled girl
next door, championing her independence and artistic growth.
claims that "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is
unhappy in its own way." While there are many variables that contribute
to each family's dysfunction, and there are many creative ways people
can sabotage their home lives, but, leaning on my personal experience,
dysfunctional families have certain "key ingredients" in common. I've
seen enough dysfunctional New England families. I've seen enough
tyrannical fathers who make occasional cameo appearances just to stomp
their feet a few times and bark. I've seen enough oblivious wives who
seek validation by throwing lavish parties. And I've seen enough lonely
children who bond with animals and neighbors than they do with their own
Monagan paints a vivid picture of social anxiety and
PTSD before those conditions were explored and labeled. His speaker,
Kingsbury, maintains an outlook that is consistent with his era. There
are references to the key Civil War battles, the draft riots in New York
City, the Bohemian art scene. It's such a daunting task to keep the
21st century author and the 19the century speaker separate. There are so
many opportunities for slip-ups and inadvertent anachronisms, and
Monagan manages to avoid them all. The most impressive feat, however, is
the exquisite, unobtrusive transition from first person limited to
first person omniscient. At some point the reader realizes that
Kingsbury describes events that did not happen before his very eyes. In
the first half of the novel, he is in close physical proximity to his
protegee. He pays painstaking attention to her body language, her
smile, her features. After Carrie moves away, he continues to chronicle
her adventures from afar, imagining what her daily life might have been.
He feels her from a distance. At the same time, Kingsbury's fascination
is refreshingly chaste. He does not devolve into a dirty old man who
becomes obsessed with the vulnerable girl next door. I admit to having
feared that the story line would head in the Lolita direction, but thankfully, it did not.
Apart from being a top-notch authentic historical novel, Carrie Welton is a commendable exercise in unorthodox narrative.