Cover to Cover

Books by UNH faculty and alumni

Also of note:
    Vincent F. Luti '52
    Mark Elbroch '00
    Charlie Bevis '75
    Heidi IllingWorth Boyd '88
    Debra Coles Lauman '90
    Tom Osenton '76
    Thomas D. Nadeau '93
    Tom Eslick '69G

    Rebecca Wentworth's Distraction:
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    A writer renowned for his evocation of early New England, Robert Begiebing '77G has admitted that the 18th century had always left his imagination "a little cold." His first two novels, The Strange Death of Mistress Coffin (1991) and The Adventures of Allegra Fullerton (1999) were set in the 17th and 19th centuries, respectively. But a local lecture series sparked a fascination with the people of 18th-century Portsmouth, N.H., and Begiebing began to see how a third novel could tie all three together. The result is Rebecca Wentworth's Distraction, the most seasoned and complex story of the trilogy.

    The story is told from the perspective of Daniel Sanborn, a young portrait painter recently arrived in Portsmouth from England. His first commission is to paint 12-year-old Rebecca Browne, a member of one of the wealthier families in the area, and Sanborn senses that "his life [is] about to turn."

    And so it is, but in ways that the ambitious young portraitist cannot foresee. During her first sitting, Rebecca, mature beyond her years, reveals that she, also, "daub[s] a paper or board now and then." What Sanborn finds in her renderings destabilizes his understanding of art, and, eventually, his life. Rebecca's work is both "wonderfully curious" and "a little frightening." She paints conventional subjects but makes them shockingly honest and unique. Sanborn believes she is a genius.

    But neither Rebecca's family nor her community share Sanborn's appreciation. They see Rebecca's "daubings" as a "distraction," or form of madness, and she is sent to live with relatives on the frontier, the timber plantations 30 to 40 miles west of Portsmouth. Sanborn must figure out a way to help her, and as their relationship grows, they each decide how to best accommodate their art with the expectations of their culture.

    With this novel, Begiebing continues the themes of his earlier work: the position of women and the role of the artist in American culture, the nature of spirituality, and the ways in which class shapes identity. At times, he is reminiscent of Hawthorne, who knew something about writing historical fiction. Like Hawthorne, Begiebing has mastered the art of transforming a tale richly saturated with a specific time into a story that is timeless.

    The Darkest Jungle: The True Story of the Darien Expedition and American's Ill-Fated Race to Connect the Seas
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    There are many cruel ironies embedded in the story of American explorer Isaac Strain's 1854 expedition to the Isthmus of Darien, not the least of which is the disappearance of the journals he and his men kept and preserved for posterity. Without primary source material, Balf acknowledges, "most sensible writers would have stopped right there." But using portions of the journals that were published in 1855 and a variety of other sources, Balf pieced together this tale of the first major government exploration in search of a canal route to connect the seas. You'll be glad he did.

    The book is as much a tale of a certain type of person as it is a story of an expedition. Balf illuminates a time in American history when brave young men felt a calling to traverse every corner of the globe, the more unknown, the better.

    For Isaac Strain, from Roxbury, Penn., it was the jungle that held the most allure, and in the 1840s he spent years traveling the major South American river systems and mapping the uncharted interior. When the Navy offered him the opportunity to map the 40-mile isthmus (located in present-day Panama) with an eye to constructing an "interoceanic" ship canal, he jumped at it.

    Explorers had tried to map Darien before. Columbus had looked for el estrecho secreto (the secret strait) to no avail. William Paterson, a Scot, had attempted to establish a colony there in the late 1600s, but plagued by disease, it lasted less than a year. Many thought the land was cursed.

    As Strain and his men were to find out, the reality was much worse than the myth. They set out with brave spirits, hopeful hearts and provisions for 10 days. Seventy days later, 20 members of the party were finally rescued after having endured what can only be described as a hellish experience; seven men had died from a combination of starvation, fever and infection.

    Balf recreates this amazing journey, delving into the personalities of the many adventurers looking to make a name for themselves in Darien and illuminating the politics of exploration in the 19th century. This is an adventure that you won't want to miss, and won't soon forget, a heart-wrenching drama masterfully told by a writer who understands the impulse for adventure. ~