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front cover of Peter LoonReviews for Peter Loon by Van Reid

From Library Journal:

Reid's fourth novel (and the first book in a new series) draws a vivid picture of the disheartening conditions in Maine after the Revolutionary War, when homesteaders and backwoodsmen were forced to do battle with prosperous, long-established families who laid claim to vast tracts of land by virtue of privilege and loyalty to the crown. Into this dispute steps naive 17-year-old Peter Loon. Dispatched by his widowed mother on the seemingly innocent mission of trying to find an uncle by marriage, he soon takes up with an itinerant saddle preacher. In the course of their travels, they encounter an assortment of characters, some good and some evil, and finally get involved in a territorial conflict. Reid has an excellent sense of dramatic situation, draws shrewd characters, and makes good use of suspense. Writing with power, restraint, and a light comic touch, he keeps a surprise till the last. The book is bound to appeal strongly to many new readers in addition to the large class of initiates for whom the ground has been prepared by the author's "Moosepath League" adventures (e.g., Cordelia Underwood, Mollie Peer). Highly recommended. A.J. Anderson, GSLIS, Simmons Coll., Boston, Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Edgecomb writer Van Reid takes a departure from chronicling the Victorian escapades of his Moosepath League to look at life in Maine shortly after the Revolutionary War. “Peter Loon” tells the story of a young man’s first sojourn from his family farm in Sheepscott Great Pond to Damariscotta and beyond.

From the Bangor Daily News:

“Peter Loon” is a sparser novel than “Cordelia Underwood,” “Mollie Peer,” or “Daniel Plainway,” Reid’s three previous novels. Those books are comic tales of Mister Tobias Walton and his young friends who solve mysteries and seek adventure as the state enters the 20th century.

In his novel, due out next month, Reid captures the isolation and determination of the “common folk” in Loon, the son of homesteaders. He contrasts that life, sheltered by the forest’s huge pines, with the life of a sea captain’s family, which to Loon appears frighteningly vast and inviting.

The 17-year-old’s adventure is set in motion when his father is crushed by a falling tree and his mother sends him in search of her former suitor, a man Loon has never heard of. As he sets off on foot, he meets Parson Leach, an itinerant parson and book dealer. Leach saves the young man’s life on more than one occasion and introduces him to the seafaring Clayden family, whose wealth and education astound Loon.

There are strong and opposing political forces at work in the novel as well. In his introduction, the author writes that by the end of the 18th century, many common folk believed that the American Revolution had not fulfilled its promise. The subsistence farmer and laborer, like Loon, asserted that a small number of wealthy and established families controlled the political arena, the courts and the official interpretation of history.

“In the District of Maine (then part of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts), men known as the ‘Great Proprietors’ claimed vast tracts of territory on the strength of old King’s Grants and often contradictory Indian deeds,” writes Reid in his brief introduction. “... the poorer folk, who were clearing the great forests of the northeast, believed that unsettled land was the right of any who could physically wrest it from the wilderness and they used sometimes brutal tactics to drive off and intimidate the proprietors’ land agents and surveyors. These bands of settlers who organized themselves against law and authority called themselves first the ‘White Indians’ and then the ‘Liberty Men.’“

It is through Leach that Reid explains the conflict from both perspectives and then defines the promise of the newly created nation called the United States of America. The parson urges “moderation in all things” as a conflict between the two factions brews and young Loon struggles to understand the politics that hadn’t touched his life before his fateful encounter with Leach.

Throughout the novel, the author successfully blends the personal with the political as Loon encounters several young women who catch his eye, cause his heart to flutter and confound his logic. Reid also subtly conveys the deep divisions that existed between the educated and uneducated classes and the vast divide between the opportunities afforded men and women in the early years of the young country.

The author easily could have made Leach the superhero of post-Revolutionary New England, but as a writer, Reid offers his reader greater subtlety and depth than that. And, while the future of men such as Peter Loon may appear bleak, the philosophy that the parson ascribes to the new nation gives “Peter Loon” its hopeful, optimistic tone without resorting to rabid patriotism.

“‘If we only love those who agree with us, then our society has no future,’” the preacher tells his young friend. “‘The old world has kings and queens to fall back upon, to blame as well as praise, but we have only ourselves, and it is a measure of this civilization, this strange nation of ours and its particular refinements, how willingly we live beside each other in peace when our opinions, and even cherished beliefs are not in harmony. Reasonable men can disagree, Peter, and there will be every imaginable permutation of opinion and thought ... no man’s lights reflecting any others completely ...’”

Reid had no crystal ball and could not have foreseen the horrific events of the past nine months as he wrote “Peter Loon.” Within the context of these times, however, his book is a gentle and engaging reminder that America is more than a nation of individuals; it also is a nation of ideas and it would serve us well to look to those roots as our global encounters with new people engage and confound us as much as they did Peter Loon when he set off from Sheepscott Great Pond and found himself in Damariscotta. By Judy Harris.

From "On Books" by Paul Di Filippo in Azimov's Science Fiction:

I know it’s wrong. I know one should allow favorite authors to grow and develop, not demand that they remain stuck repeating themselves, offering the same tricks and stunts you just so happen to enjoy. Still and all, I can’t help once in a while missing the younger James Blaylock, he who was more concerned with pratfalls and silliness than with mature confrontations with life and death. The Blaylock of The Digging Leviathan (1984) versus the Blaylock of Winter Tides (1997). But ultimately I don’t really want James Blaylock to revert to his green youth and lose all the wonderful skills and insights he’s since developed and exhibited in his more recent fiction. So I cast about for a substitute author, someone who can pull off the same jovial effects. As you might imagine, the search is quite challenging. But of late, I think I’ve found such a writer, who moreover possesses his own distinctive style and themes.

That man is Van Reid. Reid debuted in 1998 with Cordelia Underwood. Set in Maine in the 1890s, this book tells of the founding of the Moosepath League, a social club of zanies, organized around the redoubtable Mister Tobias Walton, who find themselves embroiled in both serious adventures and absurd contretemps. Mollie Peer swiftly followed in 1999, and added a layer of tragedy in its tale of a nameless, kidnapped orphan boy whom the Moosepathians rescue. Daniel Plainway (2000) concluded the story arc, as the dark secrets of the orphan, since christened "Bird," are brought to light. And while the third book left the future open for more tales of the Moosepath League, it definitely seemed to round off or cap Reid’s amazing narrative sprint.

In these books—which have minor supernatural elements—Reid evokes such wonderful antique humorists as Jerome K. Jerome and Stephen Leacock, as well as the master of them all, the Dickens of The Pickwick Papers (1837). In prose that is old-fashioned in construction and vocabulary, yet utterly readable and droll without being postmodernly ironic, Reid chronicles the quirky misunderstandings of his protagonists, their love lives and hopes and fears, producing vast emotional payoffs. He generates laughter and a knot in the throat equally well.

Reid’s new book, Peter Loon (Viking, hardcover, $24.95, 299 pages, ISBN 0-670-03052-X), is both a continuation in spirit of his earlier ones and a departure from them in style and tone. Reaching back one hundred years earlier into the history of his beloved state of Maine (the tangibility of Reid’s recreation of this era, as well as that of the 1890’s Down East, is part of the charm of his books), Reid focuses on a hardscrabble farm inhabited by the Loon family. Seventeen-year-old Peter, as oldest boy, assumes a dire burden when his father dies. His mother, a distracted, half-mad sort, rouses him one midnight and bids him leave immediately to find his "Uncle Obed Winslow"—in actuality an old boyfriend of hers. Unsophisticated Peter dutifully sets out, little imagining what the wide world holds for him.

Resting himself in a pile of leaves on his first scary night on the road, Peter is awakened most unconventionally: nearby hunters have shot a huge deer that collapses atop Peter. Getting up from under the beast, Peter seems supernaturally reborn from the bloody carcass. Only the arrival of another wanderer, Parson Leach, convinces the hunters that Peter is not a supernatural creature.

From here, Peter’s fate is bound up with Leach’s. Rebellion is in the air, as poor settlers and rich landholders struggle for the deeds to Maine’s riches. Casting about for his "Uncle," Peter finds himself meeting a colorful parade of people, including the Clayden family—a wealthy household whose generous members undermine his sense of loyalty to the underdog class he was born into. As matters mount to a head, Peter finds that his black-and-white version of the world is not large or subtle enough, and must be revised. And as for Uncle Obed? His climactic appearance remains the biggest shock to Peter.

Reid has done away with his amusing circumlocutions and leisurely pacing in this book, instead fashioning a language that evokes the solemn, spirit-haunted landscape of early America and a story that barrels along at a speedy clip. Less Blaylockian than his earlier books, his wackiest characterizations and incidents are toned down, although such a scene as the meeting between shy Peter and the bluff Clayden patriarch in the latter’s library still provokes chuckles. With elements of Gothic mystery, Peter Loon is a shadowy tale even without overt supernaturalism. When Parson Leach and Peter meet the faunlike mountain man Mr. Klaggerfell and his dog Pownal in a nighted clearing, the effect is akin to any similar meeting conjured up by Gene Wolfe in his Book of the Short Sun. Peter’s whole pilgrimage hews to an archetypical fabulist outline. This is the pure-quill American version of Puss in Boots or Jack and the Beanstalk. Not to read this simply because it’s not marketed as SF or fantasy is to deprive yourself of a major pleasure.