Kurdas’ (Seven Reasons to Love the Constitution, 2017, etc.) debut novel offers a clever new twist on the often tumultuous relationship between two of America’s Founding Fathers.
In this thought-provoking work, a retired dentist–turned-bookseller discovers a cache of letters in an old map case. The correspondence, which runs from 1801 to 1804, is between John Adams, the nation’s second president, and Alexander Hamilton, its first treasury secretary. Adams and Hamilton of the Federalist Party, which favored a strong central government, were forced from office when Thomas Jefferson and the Democratic-Republicans, which promoted more power at the state level, swept into power in 1800. The two main characters are an unlikely pair. Writing from his home in Quincy, Massachusetts, Adams blames Hamilton—and the Ultras faction of the Federalists, which Hamilton led—for his defeat in 1800: “This will confirm your opinion of me as unrestrained, foolish, tempestuous, even crazy, as you explained at length in your election pamphlet of 1800. I supposed it mattered then.” Hamilton, based in New York City, saw his actions as being what was best for the fledgling United States. Instead, the burr under his saddle is Aaron Burr, Jefferson’s first vice president, who would go on to kill Hamilton in an 1804 duel; Hamilton writes that Burr may be remembered “for committing every possible indecency.” With this novel, Kurdas provides an informative window into the souls of these two correspondents as they debate their philosophical differences, often in the most sarcastic of tones. She also shows that despite their diverging views, the two have much in common. Adams begins his correspondence just after the death of Hamilton’s eldest son, Philip, in an 1801 duel because he can empathize, having lost his own eldest son, Charles, to drink. Both men have been cast aside by the country that they helped found; both have strong, supportive wives; and both take solace in gardening. Under other circumstances, these men might have been friends. These fast-paced missives allow readers to see all the wrong turns that these historic figures took in their lives, leaving a sad sense of what might have been.
A fresh, well-thought-out approach to two legends.