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The Power Line
Christopher Shaw. Outskirts, $18.95 e-book (310p) ASIN 1977232132
Shaw (Sacred Monkey River) offers an ambitious if uneven story of the Adirondacks during Prohibition. In 1983, a former Adirondack tour guide and “independent scholar” cajoles cantankerous octogenarian Lonnie Monroe into recording an oral history of his exploits in the 1920s alongside Lonnie’s fellow WWI veteran Fran Germaine. As Lonnie holds forth, he recounts his adventures with Fran building the power lines that brought electricity to the region’s isolated towns, sliding into bootlegging, and getting caught up in mob wars. There’s a daring, narrow escape from Montreal in the dead of winter, and on the road they dodge law enforcement and entertain flappers. The reader also hears from political theorist Rosalyn Orloff, who moves to the area just before the stock market crash. She bonds quickly with Fran, now a fugitive, and hires him under a false name. Later, Fran joins an effort to establish a protected park in the mountains. Shaw’s circuitous storytelling often runs out of steam, but it provides lots of space to color in the memorable characters and recount their brushes with famous folks like Teddy Roosevelt, whom Monroe claims to have gotten drunk with around the time Roosevelt shot “one of the last moose.” Shaw gives a strong sense of the Adirondacks, from the glimpses of old-timers with pressed Dickies to the wild landscape. Gluttons for Upstate folklore will enjoy this rambling outing. (Self-published)

Reviewed by Publishers Weekly on 12/31/2021