As part of the book tour for Vine: An Urban Legend by Michael Williams, I have an excerpt so you can sample this unusual and unique book.
Episode: The Origins of Stephen Thorne
He claimed to be Orpheus, torn apart by women.
But it was more complex than Stephen imagined. Women and country and self-rending all conspired to leave him tattered.
Precocious and indulged son of a mother too smart for the good of either of them, he was Muriel Thorne’s performer and trophy in his early years. He was gold, salvaged from a wrecked marriage and abandoning father, reciting random passages from plays, films, and television shows. He was precocious from the time he could talk, a smart child but by no means the immortal that Muriel imagined in her fantasy: he was no god to erase all indignity, to carry his mother out of the dark netherworld in yet another predictable rescue story.
Muriel knew as much by the time he graduated high school, but Stephen did all right for his nurture. He graduated somewhere near the head of his class because the standards were low and nobody took that well to reading in his sports-besotted school, or in his community, for that matter. Only one other in his class headed to college out of state, and Stephen went there with relief, left Kentucky and shook the dust from his feet, bound for the East and drama school, where his mother’s early delusions had pointed him before she gave up and turned back to thinking about herself.
He arrived in the fall of ‘67, joining an incoming class of indulged, lazy children, their talents also magnified by doting parents. They would change the world like rock musicians. And it was here Stephen was found out, unmasked like a dropped disguise in an old comedy: he was clever, pretty much, in things he should have outgrown by eleven or twelve, or should have pressed further, into something deeper and wiser. And though Yale Drama was neither all that deep nor all that wise, it took only a term to weed him out, to transplant him back into harsh country, into this ground hard as tombstones for the real article, but enough to fool most anyone else.
His bus left New Haven in early ’68, harbored in the disappointment of every mother.
Kent was a kind of halfway house when Stephen arrived the next September. Muriel let it be known, lets it be known unto this day as if her listeners care, the strings she pulled somewhere in the vast theatrical fabric to get him admitted to the program. Before he could thank her, Stephen was on the bus to Ohio, sure and forever to be reminded that he was salvaged by his mother’s efforts. This time an education degree, because, as she reminded him, those who
He stalked the margins of Kent State’s Theatre Arts program. Auditioned for Streetcar and Death of a Salesman, worked the lights for a local production of The Music Man. Sat perplexed in the audience of an Alternative People’s Theatre as the first Bacchae he ever seen proved to him that alternative sometimes means god-awful. Still, the Passion of Isaac Clarke, as he came to call it later, lay fallow in his thoughts until home country and this summer forty years after.
In later years he told of brushes with famous afterthoughts. When everyone was talking Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, Stephen remembered long talks with its author, though in truth only once did he think he saw the man, at a distance on that hill by the architecture building. And when the Next Generation of Star Trek come out—the Next Generation, not the one with Shatner and Nimoy—Stephen siphoned hipness from two magnified conversations with Jon De Lancie, and his students’ eyes widened because, as he had found, teenage drama students believe most anything.
But he did know Sandra Scheuer, if only in his thoughts. Dark hair, and as he recollected her, a late-‘60s-yearbook kind of pretty, though his nostalgia and his story might of magnified her beauty. She studied speech therapy, but maybe he read that somewhere. And in the aftermath everyone discovered how little the war involved her, though she was against it in a vague and gentle fashion.
Later he imagined her as his girlfriend. He was not sure now, standing at the edge of another knoll, in a park three hundred miles and forty years from Kent.
He had slept in on that Monday morning. Woke up to the sound of what they had come to call the Victory Bell. The Guardsmen had been there since April 30 or May 1, or at least that was how he remembered it. He followed the ringing, made his way up the south side of the hill by the architecture building. As he got almost half way up, following the wall, the Guard come up the other side and crested the hill. Some of them squatted down so the others behind them could shoot over their heads. One of them trained his gun on Stephen. He could not see the man’s face for the gas mask.
Then the column turned, fired at something behind Taylor Hall. The Guardsman took his gun off of Stephen, and the line of armed men began to stir around. Stephen had to go right by them, and he smelled upon them their psychic disarray, children, although this part he would forget later, forget that they were swept along in the same current, the weight of what they done sinking no doubt, to a deep and alien bed.
So he gave dimes to two girls, who rushed off to call for ambulances. Then he looked down at the parking lot beside Prentice Hall, where someone sprawled on the pavement, a stunned group of students circling her.
Later, he imagined himself closer to Sandra. Present at the moment of her passing, at the loss of light in her eyes, though he was not there and he was too late for that veiled and quiet intimacy. And he was even more removed in the days to come. For although he did not know it in May of 1970, Stephen Thorne had begun to leave the campus.
Michael Williams was born in Louisville, Kentucky. Much of his childhood was spent in the south central part of the state, amid red dirt, tobacco farms, and murky legends of Confederate guerillas. He has spent a dozen years in various parts of the world, Vermont, New York, New Jersey, Wisconsin, with stopovers in Ireland and England, and emerged from the experience surprisingly unscathed.
Upon returning to the Ohio River Valley, he has published a series of novels of increasing oddness,combinations of what he characterizes as “gothic/historical fiction/fantasy/sf/redneck magical realism” beginning with Weasel’s Luck (1988) and Galen Beknighted (1990), the critically acclaimed Arcady (1996) and Allamanda (1997), and, most recently, Trajan’s Arch (2010). His new novel Vine will be released this summer.
Amateur theatre director Stephen Thorne plots a sensational production of a Greek tragedy in order to ruffle feathers in the small city where he lives. Accompanied by an eccentric and fly-by-night cast and crew, he prepares for opening night, unaware that as he unleashes the play, he has drawn the attention of ancient and powerful forces.
Michael Williams’ Vine weds Greek Tragedy and urban legend with dangerous intoxication, as the drama rushes to its dark and inevitable conclusion.