From Chapter I
When youve been involved in something like this, no matter how long ago it happened, no matter how long its been absent from the news, youre fated, nonetheless, to always search it out. To be on alert for it, somehow, every day of your life. For the small item at the back of the newspaper. For the stranger at the cocktail party or the unfamiliar letter in the mailbox. For the reckoning pause on the other end of the phone line. For the dreadful reappearance of something that, in all likelihood, is never going to return.
I wouldnt have thought, in fact, that I would be the one to bring it back now, after all this time. That I would be the one to finally try to explain it. What I know of it, at least, even if thats only a part. I can only guess at the other parts. But Ive been guessing at them for half my life now, and I think Ive made some sense of it.
Honestly I dont know what will come of thiswho will find pain in what I say and who, in a certain manner, solace. It isnt only that Senator Henry Bonwiller is dead. His death was melancholy news up here, of course, but its not the only reason Ive set out to tell this. The other part is my children. Thats something Im certain of. We have three daughters, and one of them is just past the age I was when these events took place, and I must say I feel a certain relief that nothing similar has shadowed any of their days; but I also know that you never stop worrying that it will. After all, if children dont make you see things differentlyfirst bringing them into the world and then watching them go out into itthen God help you.
The crowd at Senator Bonwillers funeral was even bigger than I expected. Probably six hundred people at the morning eulogymore if you count the uninvited crowd on the sidewalk in front of St. Annes, standing under the shade of the sycamores and fanning themselves with their newspapers. And at least a thousand at the burial, which was open to the public that afternoon at St. Gabriels Cemetery, not too far away and not much cooler than in town. St. Gabriels is in Islington Township, and although no other famous men are buried there, Islington Township is where Senator Bonwiller was born and where he lived until ambition moved him along: I suppose it must have been his wish that he rest there in the end. Its also where his parents and brothers lie. His wife is buried a thousand miles away, in Savannah, Georgia, with her own parents, and there was no doubt some whispering about that fact. Henry Bonwiller was a complicated man, to say the least. I knew him to a certain degree. Not well enough to know what he would have felt about the grave arrangements, but more than well enough to know he would have been happy about the crowd.
It was a Saturday in late September. A heat wave had killed lawns all across the state, and the smell of rotting apples was drifting up from the meadow. The graveside service had just ended, and we were still crowded beneath the shade of the great bur oaks, whose grand trunks rise evenly across the cemetery lawn as if by agreement with one another. There seemed to have been agreements about other things, as well. The New York Times gave the news an above-the-fold headline on page one and a three-column jump in the obituaries, but their story only included a single paragraph on Anodyne Energy and not much more on Silverton Orchards. The Boston Globe ran an editorial from the right-hand front column, under The Country Mourns, and ended with this is the close of a more beneficent era. But it didnt do much more with either bit of history.
I didnt cover it for The Speaker-Sentinel, because I was at the funeral for my own reasons, but I helped one of our young staff members who did, the high school intern who arrived underdressed in her own ironic way and probably had no idea of half the personages she was looking at. Senator Bonwiller was eighty-nine when he died and hadnt been in the news for almost fifteen years, but the crowd included more than a dozen United States senators, two Supreme Court justices, the governors of New York and Connecticut, and enough lawyers and judges and state representatives to fill the county jail. I also saw what looked like an entire brigade of retired state police officers, decked out in their old satin-striped parade uniforms. But so many of them were leaning on canes or sitting in wheelchairs that you might have thought Henry Bonwiller had been a small-town slip-and-fall lawyer and not a man who, if certain chips of fate had fallen certain other ways, might once have been president of the United States.
Excerpted from America America by Ethan Canin Copyright © 2008 by Ethan Canin. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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