An island-dwelling recluse launches countermeasures against his boorish, McMansion-building neighbor.
William Dean Howells’s 1885 novel, The Rise of Silas Lapham, chronicled the paint tycoon’s fruitless quest to gain a foothold in Gilded Age Boston society and his eventual retreat to Vermont. Commentator and essayist Rosenblatt (The Man in the Water, 2004, etc.) loosely adapts this work, told this time from the perspective of a third-generation resident of eastern Long Island. Writer Harry March lives with his talking, born-again dog Hector on a private island he named Noman, off Quogue. “I named my island Noman so that when anyone asks where I live I shall tell them, and they shall say, ‘Where is that?’ and I shall answer, ‘Noman is an island.’ To date—and it has been years—no one has asked.” March maintains a mental portfolio of rare diseases from which he suffers whenever he is threatened with a social experience, but he has uncharacteristically agreed to give a lecture on the meaning of the 20th century to the Chautauqua Institution. In between making notes for his speech, March spends his days growing more incensed with each ridiculous item that enters Lapham’s estate: three scatter rugs made from the hair of a dingo; maids’ uniforms created in Nagasaki by seamstresses maimed but not incapacitated by the 1945 bombing; 24 hand-painted mantelpieces bearing stories of the Apostles; a set of shaving brushes made from the whiskers of a dikdik. In order to save civilization as we know it, March decides to launch a fireball from his homebuilt catapult onto the monstrosity. The projectile is defeated, however, by a frigid gust from Lapham’s state-of-the-art air conditioner, which blasts the fiery mass back onto March’s island, destroying his home and property. Has the Age of Lapham won? Should March concede defeat? As our hero says, “There is always Vermont.”