Afton – A Novel
It’s Spring 1991 and Connecticut’s Long Island Sound Gold Coast is booming. Greed is good. Internet start-ups and a housing boom are turning the ‘80s economic slump into a bad dream. And New Money’s in an expansive mood. Brokers, financiers, venture capitalists, developers and even second-string money-movers are in a feeding frenzy over farmland, river, lake and Sound-side beachfront and historic estates in every picturesque town and village northeast of New York City. Ambitious architects and New Urbanist developers have arrived with plans for full-service shopping malls and upscale mixed-used residential and resort communities and the money to build them. What equally ambitious mayor or town council member would be stupid enough to stand in their way?
Danbury, Stamford, Westport and Fairfield are already vying for “fastest growing Gold Coast community.” Braeton Mills, an old textile town and industrial port still lingering in the autumn of its post-war, mid-century prime and more than willing to offer generous tax and deregulatory incentives, is next in line. Or at least town fathers and realtors hope it is. And one particularly Machiavellian developer, Rawden Darien, aims both to please and to use them. In short, to “out trump Trump.” High time to turn vacant factories and lots, Sound-side beaches and the Afton River into money makers, and the wildly beautiful Afton Marches that locals call “the swamp” into “Darien Downs.”
Outside the 19th century brick government buildings where Braeton Mill’s future will be decided, in one of the city’s shiny new corporate parks a handful of bright-eyed, twenty- and-thirty-somethings and the ambitious principals of the landscape architecture firm where they work are preparing to show the Gold Coast’s aging New Deal generation they view as drags on the New Economy what a 21st century Good Life is going to look like. Not all of the New Deal generation are eager to be shown.
While change on a grand scale is about to challenge Braeton Mills, while blueprints are being unrolled, plot lines laid out and palms greased, change on a personal and interpersonal level is already under way. In particular the settled lives of the once-trophy-wife, now habitual good-wife and about-to-be widow, Mary Hannah Walker, and the retiring, handsome landscape artist Leslie Willoes, are being quickly and unceremoniously unsettled by Darien’s devastating plan for the Afton Marches, Clay Walker’s secretive plan for “his” estate, and revelations of betrayals both past and present. Hannah and Leslie, along with their several close friends, the town’s young lions and a team of unscrupulous old lawyers are about to be implicated in each others’ lives in unpredictable ways, as two mutually exclusive visions of Braeton Mill’s future collide.
In the tradition of novels by authors like Marilynne Robinson, Jody Picoult, Annie Dillard and Anne Tyler, that plumb the many kinds of love and loss, by turns poignant, tender, beautiful, infuriating, heart-warming and heart-wrenching, Afton is, according to one impassioned reader, “hard to put down, but I didn’t want it to end. So when it did, I started over again at the beginning.” (See five-star reviews on Amazon.)