Brooklyn novelist Drinkard’s latest offers a quirky look at the Revolutionary War from the vantage point of a hemp-growing New York farmer and his family, hampered by conflicting loyalties.
A fatal encounter early in the American Revolution between a British officer and Long Island hemp farmer Salt, his trigger-happy 17-year-old son, James, and their manumitted servant Drinky Crow, forces Salt to flee their home or be shot for the officer’s murder. The Brits garrison in Salt’s considerable homestead, run with an iron will by his capable, attractive wife, Molly, and her doddering Loyalist father, Ebenezer. The old man owns the place, and never liked Salt; in his old age, Ebenezer begins to mistake his daughter for his late wife. The commanding officer, Major General Michael Drayton, makes sexual advances toward Molly, who is not averse to succumbing to passion now that her rather ineffectual, cannabis-smoking husband is absent; in return, Drayton offers recalcitrant son James, secretly a reader of Paine’s Common Sense, a career as an officer. Meanwhile, Salt is pressed by pirates onto Bright Star, a vessel running contraband and directed by the tyrant Captain Marbury. Salt is given three years’ indentured service amid a motley crew of slaves, Arabs, Indians and Spaniards, and because he looks remarkably like the captain, is forced into the dangerous position of impersonating him when the crew is taken aboard the British prison ship Jersey, a development resulting in weeks of wretched conditions among the debased prisoners, scurrilous details—of buggering, nitpicking, random violence, torture—that Drinkard seems to delight in relaying; at home, James has become a British officer, and Molly is pregnant by Drayton.
Drinkard (Disobedience, 1993, etc.) has fashioned an imaginative, unique take on American history, charged with the subtleties of shifting and treacherous loyalties, and all wonderfully human.