-- by Kate Schaal, director, Quechee/Wilder Libraries
Jeffrey Lent spoke at the Quechee Library on Tuesday, May 26, about his newest, nationally acclaimed book, A Slant of Light. He writes (and primarily reads) historical fiction, although poetry is also important to him. An author who does thorough research, he takes pride in getting intricate details right -- whether about farm tools or family divisions brought on by the Second Awakening preacher, the Public Friend. He is also, however, a native son who grew up in Vermont and rural New York on dairy farms powered by draft horses. The precision with which he describes the harnessing and handling of mules is that of someone who has done this work (and loved these animals).
Lent first visited the Quechee Library in 1999 after the publication of his first novel, In the Fall, an immediate national bestseller. That first success was an elegantly written novel about three generations. Reviews emphasized “the crushing weight of guilt… the searing intensity of forbidden love.”
Those accolades remain appropriate for the novels that followed. They are each to be recommended, but none more than A Slant of Life. Lent read the first chapter on Tuesday, including the harrowing scene of the double killing by Malcolm Hopeton, the farmer returning from a bloody stint in the Union Army, who will thereafter wrestle with guilt and remorse as others try to save him. The book is a study of faith, justice and forgiveness.
Lent then answered questions from an audience who clearly found his work beautifully descriptive as it deals with searing mysteries as well as the rhythms of country life. He answered the query about a writer’s discipline: “hardest work I’ve ever done….I write every afternoon and evening.” When queried about his favorite authors, Lent mentioned Jim Harrison, who he described as a great friend and supporter with admirable grit, Cormac McCarthy, William Faulkner, Alice Munro, Edna O’Brien, Nancy Huston, and Ernest Hemingway. Lent added, “Certain writers allow you to see a world in a way that allows you to make sense of your own.”
As for the roots of his fiction, “None of my main characters are real people,” he said. “But they brush up against real people and events.” Indeed, the sweat evoked by the scene of scrubbing the hearth on a hot summer’s day originates in Lent’s recall of such a hearth at his grandparents' home on River Road, a few miles up from the library.
Next week he will be in Mississippi, continuing a book tour for this wonderfully textured novel.