Page-turner thriller set in Franklin County
Quindlen explores new chapters in the life of a 60-year-old woman
Special to The Recorder
“Sugar Mountain” by Alfred Alcorn (Caravel Books, 374 pages, $18.45)
Epidemiologists frequently caution the public about the possibilities of a global pandemic. In his new book “Sugar Mountain” Alfred Alcorn of Colrain believably imagines the dramatic consequences of such a pandemic.
Cyrus Arkwright, a retired architect who lives with his wife, Grace, and extended family members on a farm in Franklin County, identifies himself as “a prepper, a homesteader, a survivalist.”
He and other concerned neighbors have been preparing for years for the remote yet real possibility that a global disaster will force them to live without the sort of outside assistance most of us take for granted: food that comes from places other than our own land, electricity from a central grid, fossil fuel for cars and generators, public servants such as policemen and firefighters.
Cyrus and his family have fashioned enough living space for about 20. They have planted crops and stockpiled items they cannot grow themselves. They have established backup sources of energy.
Although Cyrus himself is a pacifist, he has agreed to let his son Jack store arms for self-defense. Family members near and far have helped prepare the farm for potential disaster.
As the book opens, that disaster looms. A new, incurable strain of flu appears in a remote area of China. Soon it spreads throughout the world, killing the majority of those exposed. More are expected to die in the aftermath of the flu and the chaos it leaves behind—from starvation, from violence, from exposure.
The Arkwrights gather at their farm, Sugar Mountain, and hunker down. Not all of the family members adjust to their new world. Cyrus and Grace’s second son, Frank, an attorney, has never liked country life. He longs for his deals, his three-piece suits, his colleagues — in short, his identity.
Others take to life on the farm despite the hard work and the uncertainty. Both the work and the uncertainty grow as a nearby clan becomes lawless and starts attacking homes in the area to gather food and power.
Eventually, the Arkwrights are forced to evacuate the farm and find other refuge. They never lose their commitment to each other and to civilization, however.
The book begins rather abruptly as though it is in a hurry to get the family isolated on the farm. Once Alcorn gets his story going, however, this experienced novelist makes the reader respect his characters and care about their fate — which, the author implies, could be all our fates.
The publisher of “Sugar Mountain” calls it a “literary thriller.” The term is apt. The book is a well-crafted page turner. It also reminds the reader of the important things in life: family, work, love, food, literature, children, and nature.
Tinky Weisblat is the author of The Pudding Hollow Cookbook (www.merrylion.com) and Pulling Taffy (www.pullingtaffy.com). She is always looking for new books from Franklin County-related authors to review for this paper. If you have a book suggestion, email her at Tinky@merrylion.com.