Many feel the pull of home, the desire to revisit literally or in memory the place where we were born and raised, where we encountered people and events that have marked our lives forever.
My home was the city of Amsterdam in the eastern Mohawk Valley of upstate New York. The siren song of the past I once lived in the Valley has always called to me. In the rhythm of syllables and sentences, I've heard the voices of the people. I've never forgotten the smells and sounds, lights and shadows of mill lane and riverside that made up the texture of a way of life I knew intimately.
Long before the coming of the railroad in the late nineteenth century and the interstate highway system of the twentieth, the Mohawk Valley presented the only passage westward through the Appalachians. When the railroad and the highway did arrive, they followed the course of the river. Prosperity came to the region during the early years of the last century. With money came immigrants and small cities like Amsterdam grew with swelling numbers of them and their children. They became the politicians, shopkeepers, mill-hands, railroad laborers who gave the community its life.
The everyday experiences of these commoners, these "splendid nobodies" as the novelist William Kennedy calls them, celebrated the hopefulness of prosperity during the first half of the twentieth century. In the second half, this population endured a decline in economic and spiritual fortune that was as profound if not as dramatic as that of the postbellum South. Gone now is much of what these people built. The towering mill buildings, the shops, neighborhood groceries and bars, the small parks and picnic groves that were the scenes of labor and recreation have for the most part disappeared.
My writing is driven by the desire to recreate the texture of that vanished life. My characters feel the cool shadows cast by the carpet mills looming over the streets on hot summer afternoons. They smell the sourness that wafted from the gin mills along the main drag and the sweet aromas of cheese and produce that emanated from the corner groceries. They walk the streets of downtown at night when the shop windows glow like many colored gems in the sheltering darkness. My fiction explores the lives of these ordinary people. My purpose is to illustrate their meanness as well as their magnanimity, their dignity as well as their despair. It is this common humanity whose stories I want to tell.