Fiction. As members of the wild, wandering generation raised on rebellion find ourselves growing older, who do we now understand ourselves to be? Revolution may be in our souls but our lives are now affected by illness, financial concerns, careers that may not have panned out as expected, and a diminishing pathway leading through the years ahead. WATKINS GLEN is the story of Susan, a woman in her sixties, who finds herself taking care of her estranged older brother, Mark, who has Alzheimer's. They are the children of a father who worked in his brothers' upholstery factory for most of the year but in the summers, escaped with his family to Watkins Glen, where he was the best outlaw drag racer in a town that primarily caters to high-end road racing. After a life spent in New York City, Susan has moved back to Watkins Glen where she takes her brother to live--temporarily, she thinks. In the throes of his illness, Mark has developed a rare but well-known symptom of dementia called Acquired Artist Syndrome, whereby people who have never even thought about painting suddenly become obsessed with the art. Once Mark gets to Watkins Glen, he becomes possessed by the idea that there is a Loch-Ness like monster living in Seneca lake and he begins painting the creature. When a stormy season brings mudslides and floods to the region, Mark develops a new obsession--the fear that dredgers brought in to clear the lake after the deluge are a danger to the lake monster, and he wanders around the lake, looking for the lost and possibly injured creature that his sister knows does not exist. And yet, of course, she knows that in a way, it absolutely does.
At the heart of WATKINS GLEN, Eleanor Lerman's wonderfully nuanced fifth novel, the burdens of time and place and family converge in the story of estranged siblings, a sister and older brother, reconnecting and coming to terms with a monster. Initially, this a Loch Ness-like monster imagined by the brother, who has developed Acquired Artist Syndrome and spends his days painting a nearby lake, but it's clear the real monster is Alzheimer's, the degradation of the brother's mind set against the rush of time and the sister's coming to terms with her runaway past and the need to care for her brother. What's beautiful about this book is Lerman's sure hand in presenting the stage by stage development through the ordinary human work of loving another--that is, attending doctor's appointments, paying late bills, being patient with growing levels of violence, of her brother being 'there, ' then not there. Set in upstate New York, a place their family escaped to so their father could drag race when they were children, fast cars and open stretches of backroads are never far from the main character's mind where limits fall away and speed and hope and enduring connection (her brother beside her) are possible.--Dennis Hinrichsen
It's not often one gets to luxuriate in such beautiful prose. WATKINS GLEN examines the confusions of aging and regret, but also the compelling bonds of family and shared history, however complex and uncertain, and ultimately one of the pure joys life has to offer.--Chris Knopf
About the Author
Eleanor Lerman, who lives in New York, is the author of numerous award-winning poetry collections, short stories, and novels. She is a National Book Award finalist and has received both Guggenheim and NEA fellowships for poetry. Her novel, Radiomen won the 2016 John W. Campbell Prize for the Best Book of Science Fiction and was followed by THE STARGAZER'S EMBASSY (Mayapple Press, 2017) which won an American Fiction Award. Her next novel, Satellite Street (The Permanent Press, 2019), was a finalist for both the Montaigne Medal and the Eric Hoffer Award. Her other works include WATKINS GLEN (Mayapple Press, 2021), STRANGE LIFE (Mayapple Press, 2014), JANET PLANET (Mayapple Press, 2011), and THE BLONDE ON THE TRAIN (Mayapple Press, 2009).