STILLWATER

William F. Weld, Author
William F. Weld, Author . Simon & Schuster $23 (240p) ISBN 0-7432-0598-7
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The coldhearted malice of self-serving political deception undermines life in a bucolic farm valley during the Depression in this historical drama by the former governor of Massachusetts. The fictional Swift River Valley in western Massachusetts is home to five small farm towns with a rebellious history, and Huck Finn heaven for the orphaned narrator, Jamieson Kooby, and his tomboy friend from the state poorhouse, Hannah Corkery. Jamieson, who lives with his savvy widowed grandmother on the Hardiman family farm, is 15 the summer it is revealed that the valley is to be flooded for a reservoir/dam construction boondoggle railroaded through the state legislature by the Boston political machine. Grandma's romance with local leader Doc Crocker and her association with the town clerk, her brother-in-law, make her kitchen the meeting place to hatch resistance to the plan. But when a construction crew shows up to clear land for the dam, even Jamieson and his grandmother must admit defeat. Events accelerate as the doomed valley is readied for submersion, and murder and betrayal end Jamieson's childhood forever. Weld (Mackerel by Moonlight) aims subtle barbs under the cover of rural charm, crafting a folksy tale that makes it clear rural schemes enriching distant politicos don't occur without local collusion. Memorable characters, smooth prose and true period tone with an edge of menace make this a splendid read. Agent, Peter Matson. (Jan.)

Forecast:This is a departure for Weld, whose previous novels were contemporary political satires. Its attractions are milder, but name recognition should prompt browsers to take a look.

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