by VTD Editor | March 23, 2012
Eric Best, author of “The D Generation Series.” Photo courtesy The Herald of Randolph
This article is by M.D. Drysdale, the editor and publisher of The Herald of Randolph, in which it was first published.
If you’ve been waiting for a whole series of novels set explicitly in Randolph and Braintree and other nearby towns, it’s here, and it’s full of vivid writing.
In The “D Generation Series” you will find familiar local references on every other page — to a road, a town, a business, a neighborhood.
The series is a project — obsession, maybe — of Eric Best, who lived the earlier part of his life in Randolph, graduated from Whitcomb High School in 1989, and now lives again in Randolph. The series debuted in 2010, and the second installment, “Prussian Blue,” was celebrated at a book release party in February.
In a recent interview, Best told The Herald that he doesn’t know how many books there will be, but he has a clear goal: one every year.
The author describes the series as “a Vermont mystery, set in 2056 when the economies of the world are broken, petroleum is banned, China has invaded the West Coast, Vermont is an independent republic, and a plague has wiped out most of the world’s population.”
The name of the series is a brilliant invention — neatly describing the theme of the books while giving a gentle warning that they’re not warm and fuzzy stories. The warning is amplified on the first page, where Best gives his books an “R” rating on numerous counts — including “bad f___ ing languge.”
In fact, one of the more fetching episodes of the first book, if you’re open to that kind of thing, is an argument between the main character James Mann and his hoped-for girlfriend Julia about the relative merits of the “f-word” and the “sh-word.” You get the picture.
Interesting, though, is the fact that in an hour’s interview at The Herald, Best did not utter either one of these popular expressions, nor any other word unfit for a family newspaper that doesn’t even allow the “d-word.”
In fact, Best spoke much more like the person he really is — a stay-at-home parent, partner of Vermont Tech writing instructor Sarah Silbert, and father of 10-year-old Stella, 7-year-old Drew, and 3-year-old Gracie.
The language, violence, drug references, and hard-edged humor in the first two books actually reflect the antithesis of Best’s personal vision, but also his fear that that’s where the world could be headed — that’s what we might D Generate into.
“Sometimes it seems that we are (headed that way),” he said. “I’ve put a lot of thought into it.”
“The backdrop is meant to be a picture of what things could get like,” he explained. “It’s powerful to take things to their logical conclusion.”
In the first book, the general devastation results in what you might expect — terrible poverty and random every-man-for-himself violence. “Prussian Blue” explores what a meltdown of Vermont Yankee would mean for Vermont.
However, though the landscape is bleak, the characters and the writing are not.
“The characters and plot are designed to entertain,” Best insisted.
And Best, though he has never had a writing course, turns out to be very good at it — original, funny, and fond of outrageous but apt similes. The characters, both good and bad, are memorable, and the books are full of language jokes: The violent family that rules much of Braintree is named the Pitts.
Best is serious about his writing.
“I started at 14,” he said. “I had a lot of imagination and didn’t know what to do with it. I wrote pages and pages of godawful stuff.”
After WHS he went through Vermont Tech’s bio-tech program and worked as a chemist for awhile, played in rock bands for awhile, but all the while his writing was getting better, and more disciplined and researched.
He’s completed 300,000 words of a “medieval fantasy,” which some day might be a five-book series. He wrote a book about a stay-at-home dad that he thought might fit the “romance” category.
With the D Generation books, he decided to write “totally for myself, not for any audience, totally uncensored” by others’ expectations.
“I want to visualize life a little different than it is now. There’s a separation between life as it’s become, as opposed to what we want it to be … So many people could care less about what they are doing — and that’s a formula for degeneration.”
Like many authors, he’s finding that the books have their own ideas of how to be written.
“It can be frustrating at times,” he said. “The plot takes on a life of its own. These are the first books I’ve been unable to outline — I didn’t know where the story would go until the last three chapters.”
He already has tentative outlines for three more D-gen books.
“I have too many ideas,” he lamented, but it was a happy lament.
May 20, 2011 – Here is the link to a review in Seven Days. There are three books covered here, and the D Generation is in the middle. [full article is below]
A big thank you to Margot Harrison of Seven Days for her review of the first The D Generation. I cried. My favorite quote is, “Best keeps his story fast paced, action packed and irreverent; this is closer to Mad Max (or Stephen King) than to Kunstler’s future. But the characters are fleshed out, the world is carefully imagined, and there are thoughtful moments, too.” Thanks for noticing Margot! Yes, it’s not just a testosterone romp through a broken Vermont landscape. I also like: “…Best is scripting the drive-in movie.” Yes. Yes. Yes. I would send you flowers, but I think that violates some professional ethic. Ethics! Hopefully, ‘thank you’ is enough.
New Pages: The End of the World As We Know It (and Other Stories)
State of the Arts
BY MARGOT HARRISON
You know gas prices have gone up when you start receivingmultiple locally authored novels about life in the U.S. after oil. Or maybe “post-peak-oil scenario” is now its own distinct literary genre, just like zombie apocalypse and domestic drama.
Granted, James Howard Kunstler, who lives over in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., has been writing about this stuff forever. His nonfiction best seller The Long Emergency: Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the 21st Century (2005) is practically a bible of peak-oil prophets, and his novel World Made by Hand (2008) imagined how that survival might play out in one small Hudson River Valley town.
Turns out that novel was the first in a series. The second, The Witch of Hebron, published last fall, returns readers to the town of Union Grove in a year “which has yet to come in history.” The protagonist, 11-year-old Jasper Copeland, only dimly recalls a petroleum-driven world that disappeared before he outgrew his kiddie car seat: “He remembered the speed of objects rushing past a window, and the brightly illuminated signs of commerce, and his own discomfort in the strangely aromatic plastic seat.” Now all that remains of the Kmart is a sign reading “art,” leading Jasper to imagine “some kind of great bazaar at which objects of art were bought and sold.” The rest of his world is a lot more like rural life in the 19th century than what we’d anticipate from the 21st — and, Kunstler strongly implies, it’s better that way.
Whether you agree or not, Jasper’s coming of age — in a richly detailed landscape more akin to Cold Mountain than Mad Max — is a compelling read.
While Kunstler infuses his prose with retro gentility, Randolph-area writer Eric J. Best takes a totally different tack in his self-published short novel The D Generation: Volume One. Best’s protagonist, James Mann, is more likely to quote Blue Oyster Cult than the Bible — particularly since he’s a goddess-worshipping pagan. It’s 2056, and China has invaded the U.S. from the West Coast. Gas is “obsolete” and illegal, but technology lives on for those Vermonters who can afford it. “‘Keeping it real’ had taken on a whole new meaning,” Best writes.
James drives a ’68 Camaro that runs on ethanol; for him, the dream of speed isn’t dead. He doesn’t like to dwell on what he’s lost to social upheaval: “His friends looked to him for some indifference.” But when his car is stolen by a local diesel-driving badass, James has disturbing precognitive visions of the violence it might take to retrieve it.
Best keeps his story fast paced, action packed and irreverent; this is closer to Mad Max (or Stephen King) than to Kunstler’s future. But the characters are fleshed out, the world is carefully imagined, and there are thoughtful moments, too. “People had died, starved, sickened, run away, been shot, or murdered for a bite to eat,” James reflects at one point. “And yes, people had become more spiritual in leaps and bounds. The backyard shrine was as common these days as a garden of struggling vegetables and a cupboard full of empty dinner bowls. … How could he not be spiritual? There was nowhere else to turn.”
If Kunstler writes neo-Victorian novels about the post-peak world, Best is scripting the drive-in movie. We’d like to see the sequel.
Of course, the future isn’t the only place to look for stories of communities bound by shared spirituality.Nancy Kilgore, who lives in Vermont and practices psychotherapy in Hanover, N.H., has crafted a quietly absorbing one in her first novel, Sea Level.
This is the type of book big publishers often bypass because they assume its audience is limited — in this case, to readers interested in the troubled intersection of feminism and organized religion. Set in 1980, Sea Level introduces us to Brigid Peterson, a suburban Virginia wife who feels called to the Methodist ministry but encounters more than she bargained for when she steps into the pulpit in a small-town church on the Delmarva Peninsula. As her parishioners oppose her attempts to introduce mildly nontraditional language to the service, she finds herself questioning the patriarchal aspects of her faith.
While its cover copy makes it sound like a well-meaning, rather stiff novel of ideas,Sea Level is actually a vibrant story of manners and place. Kilgore brings to life a world of ocean mists, oyster fairs and elderly, quince-jelly-making Southern ladies who grow militant at the hint of a threat to their precious fund for the caretaking of the cemetery. Their lives and their reasons for resisting Brigid’s innovations are never caricatured. Kilgore has obvious affection for this coastal world of “wet gray light,” which already belongs partly to memory — “they’re even saying we might all be oystered out soon,” notes one old-timer.
When the subject is theology, the novel can become talky. But, in her evocative descriptions of the town of Sand Hill from the point of view of Mary Bradley, an artist who returns home from Manhattan and falls in love with a difficult, elusive man, Kilgore treads the same territory as Alice Munro. It’s quiet, indeed, but for readers who prefer the domestic to the apocalyptic, Sea Level is worth seeking.