“The Floodplain”, a novel written by local author, English professor and former US Navy lieutenant Anthony Robinson, was released by Codhill Press just two weeks ago. Could there be a more apt title for a novel based in the New Paltz region this year, after the tumultuous Hurricane Irene and subsequent rain events wrought havoc on farms, property, roads and homes?
And yet, Robinson’s seventh novel is set in the 1970s: a time of cultural and sexual upheaval in America. Everything in English professor Rick Forrester’s life appears to be crystalline. He lives in a historic home, with views of an oxbow extending upwards to a mountain range. He has his beautiful wife Chloe, a budding therapist, and their two growing children: Lisa, a thoughtful, creative young girl and her older brother Drew, a young man dutiful to his family and his chores with a passion for and dream of becoming a professional golfer.
Forrester enjoys teaching English at the local university and is passionate about his biography of Thoreau — a literary intrigue that is balanced by the calm and security that his family and home bring him, as well as his dog Waldo, a white springer spaniel, who accompanies Forrester on various bird-hunting adventures.
Like any portrait of a man, or landscape of a family in harmony, things can turn on a dime — or, in Forrester’s case, on his wife’s attraction to a charismatic psychiatrist, Dr. Evan Kendrix. At first Kendrix serves as Chloe’s mentor, and then her quasi-business partner, giving her clients, taking her to various psychiatry conferences and retreats despite her husband’s opposition.
Soon Chloe becomes infatuated with Kendrix, feeling that their blossoming sexual relationship and personal/professional affair is at the heart of finding her true self and embracing a component of the women’s liberation movement: that a woman could have it all — children, a husband, a lover, a career. She is delirious with joy and spinning in her newfound freedom and sexual liberation, while her husband finds a rooming house in which to live, filled with despair and rage over his wife’s betrayal.
As he nurses his wounds, he stays true to his children, to fixing and repairing their aging home and even to his wife, who is quickly becoming entranced with a man who is not what he appears to be. Chloe is not Kendrix’s sole sexual conquest, as the novel entangles and reveals the many women with whom he engaged and drew into his odd psychotherapy spell — including paying clients, some of whom had suffered sexual abuse as children, whom he attempted to “liberate” by having sex with them himself.
As Forrester suffers and carries on in a tiny apartment, sharing the caretaking of the two children with his wife — who soon begins to discover that Kendrix is not who she had hoped or imagined him to be — he too begins to become infatuated with a 30-year-old graduate student, Noreen, who provides him with companionship, love and calm, and injects a bit of adventure and fresh air into the suffocating despair to which he has been subjected.
All tragic novels — and this is certainly one of them — have moments of incredible ecstasy, and then things begin to unravel. In this case, Chloe unravels, and almost in sync with her mother, daughter Lisa falls in love with a homeless Vietnam vet, with whom she attempts to live in a sheltered cave along the Crag: something that her father will not stand for. As he attempts to rein his daughter in from danger, his wife becomes increasingly more unhinged, and he is caught between doing what he believes is right for his family and protecting those he loves, as well as moving on after Chloe’s very clear and harsh betrayal.
The Floodplain is a gripping, turn-the-page novel from the very first page. And for those who are familiar with the area, the author has changed some names of locations, businesses, streets, topographical features just slightly — or not all of them, in the case of the now-defunct but nostalgic Hobo Deli; and P & G’s has turned into P & B’s. While reading The Floodplain, if one knows the area, one can envision the vistas, the streets, the Wallkill River, the farmstands, Bonticou Crag, the SUNY-New Paltz college grid; visualize the roominghouses and the old motel that burned down where the Gilded Otter now stands.
“An idea for a short story can happen easily, in one night; the idea pops up and you write it,” said Robinson, who lives with his wife in New Paltz. “But a novel, that’s a different thing. Every writer hopes for that story to begin, to grow…this one did just that. I’m not an author who has written all of his novels in one town or city or region. But this one is close to home: Some of the names have changed, some are completely fictitious; but the core of the novel, of the story, is a tragedy and how a man and his family deal with that tragedy during and after. Some of the most beautiful novels ever written center around a [similar] tragedy, but each is unique to its telling and its details and its sub-stories and subplots.”
To learn more or to purchase the book, visit www.codhill.com or www.arobinson.net. The author said that he is excited to work with local bookstores, particularly Inquiring Minds for an upcoming book reading and signing. ++