In this extraordinary first novel, John R. Hayes reaches into his childhood memories and old family stories about the Catskill mountains to bring us to a town he calls Chicken Corners.It is the beginning of World War II, when the events in Europe, mirrored in the melting pot that is New York City, are echoed in this lovely rural area.On a pleasant summer evening in Chicken Corners, three men with rifles-two in their twenties, another in his mid-thirties-take firing positions on a wooded hillside overlooking a dilapidated farmhouse. The building is packed with immigrant Jewish families--refugees from Eastern Europe who have been given a weekend in the country as a respite from the city's heat and teeming streets.As the sun begins to set, the men begin firing carefully into the farmhouse, aiming harmlessly high to frighten the unwanted visitors away.They do not aim to kill, but before the evening is over a local widow, whose presence in the farmhouse cannot be explained, lies dead.It is the amazing reality of widely varied people, both from the past and from the story's present, that makes Catskill impossible to put down.There is the young shooters' alcoholic grandfather, a Tammany Hall "fixer," who is so moved by the shooting that he curtails a midsummer binge to consult a high-level Catholic prelate from New York City. There is the half-Algonquin sheriff in charge of the case who lives uneasily with the feeling that he "belongs nowhere."There is the Tammany politician's good friend, a German Jew from New York's East Side, who runs a modest bus line for vacationers. There is a little Polish girl who knows more about the shooting than she is willing to tell. And over all hangs the ghost of the maniacal Tom Quick, an 18th century legend in the Catskills, an obsessed Indian-killer whose spirit is believed by some to be behind the summer's shooting. In the tradition of E. L. Doctorow's Ragtime, Catskill makes palpable the hostility between locals and outsiders, cultures and races and social levels, politics and religions.But whatever these emotions can engender, at the root of this particular tragedy is the villain whose face we all recognize -- Greed, and the lengths to which people will go to satisfy it.Catskill is one of those rare works that welcome the reader into a new and vivid world, engaging the heart and enlivening the mind.AUTHORBIO: Prior to World War II, John R. Hayes summered in the Catskills in a large Victorian country house at Swan Lake. It was built by his great-great-grandfather, who had been a Sachern and Treasurer of Tammany Hall. Mr. Hayes has been a book and magazine writer and editor, an illustrator, a teacher, and a public relations executive with a number of international oil companies. Catskill is his first novel.He currently lives in New York City and Sherman, Connecticut with his wife Patricia.
New York : Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Minotaur, 2001
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258 p. ; 22 cm