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A new year

A new year

New releases being published by Threekookaburras in 2017 include Outposts by Sean Akerman.

A young academic is given the job of authoring a biography about a famous, reclusive writer named Nestor Dunn. Barely surviving unemployment, clutching a graduate degree that seems useless, he hoped the project would change his life for the better. However, his work unravels across academic conferences, strip clubs, cemeteries, and the city of New York. All the while, he becomes infatuated with Nestor’s estranged, mysterious daughter, Emma. On the verge of a nervous collapse, he retreats north, to his own place of birth, to investigate his subject more closely.

 Here is an excerpt:

Like Nestor I too started in western Maine, in Suffolk Valley, in fact. Like Nestor. I have lived in those words for a while now.  I grew up hearing whispers of the great writer, who no one seemed to know. I would think about his books when I was a teenager, trekking through pine groves during the long winters. There were always the imagined conversations with Nestor. Not that I pictured a confab with him alone, rather his characters and landscapes filled the silences of days and nights. The centimeters between his sentences and paragraphs were grounds to insert my history and find words for it. That someone living wrote books that meant so much to me – and came from where I did – never ceased to amaze me.

If there’s one thing that I’ve learned from my failures as his biographer, it’s that within each of us several histories compete at once. Some background is useful here: most of what matters happened before I was even born, in a blank space, before the cradle. I suppose it was sometime in the late 1970s when my father met my mother. He was on a job hauling lumber from eastern Canada, not far from Montreal, across the American border to a paper mill in western Maine. He smashed his hand on account of a mechanical accident and had to be tended to at the local doctor’s office. She nursed there and bandaged him up and sent him back to Canada, hoping that he would return, and in a way hoping further injury would befall him. That’s how it started.

The following month he traversed the same route and arranged to meet her. But I only know all this from the runoff of stories because my parents left around when I started to walk. Who went away first is subject to who you ask, and by and large the subject was not to be broached. Of course, I asked a lot. I have created the image of my father at the corner of the lake near where I was born, studying the feel of pine bark, wondering what to do. His type of work was plentiful in Canada, so back he went before long. Despite a lack of photographs, it was easy to imagine him as a young man, for I think of myself and broaden the shoulders. My mother went with a man who ran skiff boat tours off the coast of Florida. I never quite understood how she ended up down there, but I do know my grandfather found the man suspect. ‘Her and that goddamn Jimmy Buffett type’ was what he would say about it. I took it to mean that he disagreed with her decision to go south and abandon home and child for a man who lived large by way of insurance fraud. Nonetheless, I picture her too, though I draw her image from my eyes outward, the color of which I presume we share.    

 When I say that most of what matters exists in the time before me, I mean that so long as I can remember I’ve carted around these figures who act like phantoms. They look and speak but they have no presence. All I know is that at one time they lived together in Suffolk Valley. So I suppose it is not surprising that I try to locate myself in relation to that place. What I make of the word home is a landscape, a blot pattern of lakes sectioned into a town of ten thousand, most of them millworkers. It was a hard, nasty place that ached with a morning’s pull, greased with a soot scent, sistered in by rows of birch and azaleas. But at least I was of that place.

 

Sean Akerman grew up in rural Maine and moved to New York City in 2006, where he earned a PhD in social and personality psychology. He has taught at Hunter College, Sarah Lawrence College, and Bennington College. In 2015, he moved to the North Woods, where he writes and edits full time. His poetry and prose have appeared in Main Street Rag, Delivered Magazine, and Theory & Psychology, among other publications. 

 

 

 

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