Book Review: Locus Amoenus
by Tonia Shoumatoff
When Victoria Alexander moved up to Amenia from Soho is 2003, she got the vibe that people thought she was a city person (a ‘citiot’ as she says in her novel) and that the locals did not think much of her. “They don’t like outsiders here,” she was told by her first friend, an older woman who has lived in Amenia for forty years.
“I tried to be a lot friendlier, smiled a lot. I enrolled my child in pre-K at Amenia Elementary School, became president of the PTA, volunteered for everything.” But when she wanted to try to change things and asked for a better school lunch, with fresh vegetables and less sugar in the food she was shunned. She ended up taking her child out of the school and home schooling.
Ms. Alexander, who has a PhD in English and philosophy of science, is also a novelist and the founder of Dactyl, a foundation that fosters dialogue between artists and scientists. Her fourth novel, Locus Amoenus, is set in Amenia and relates the story of a modern-day Hamlet whose father died in 9/11, and who starts to investigate the final collapse of the buildings. Hamlet starts to go crazy when his former science teacher, Horatio, from Brooklyn tells him that things are not as they seem regarding the collapse of the buildings that killed his father.
Hamlet’s love interest is Ophelia, an equestrian and the daughter of Polonius, a weekender in Millbrook. As Hamlet grapples with the post 9/11 debacle he sees that the world has gone mad and he is enraged that big Ag and big Pharma have taken over. He retreats to his tree house to think things over, but as he sees more corruption in government he becomes madder and madder.
Horatio takes Hamlet to “Poland,” a community in upstate New York where people grow all their own vegetables, have their own currency, barter and recycle everything and let guinea hens roam free and eat up the ticks that cause Lyme Disease.
A sad debacle ensues, which of course, ends in tragedy, as does Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
The novel is a scathing commentary on government-subsidized food programs in schools, low-level abuses of authority in local government and the destructive effects of war and pharmaceuticals.
The setting of the story is semi-autobiographical: Ms. Alexander’s son does have a tree house, she does raise sheep and chickens, and she does support farmers’ markets. Her husband in real life is not the low-level bureaucrat in the story, but is a builder and a member of the Amenia Planning Board, Nathan Roy. Roy’s business, Ecologic Construction (www.ecologicconstruction.com), incorporates green building principles as much as possible, including passive solar, radiant heat, and even the re-use of biogas. He has built ecological cottages and tree houses. Roy worked in straw bale residential construction in Santa Fe, NM, one of his many credentials.
Ms. Alexander’s book will be released at the end of May, 2015 by the Permanent Press, an independent press in New York city that “commits itself to publishing works of social and literary merit.” A book-signing will take place at the Millbrook Literary Festival sponsored by Merritt Books on May 30th.