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An eloquent and dramatic portrait of a city plagued by mysterious pestilence—as the isolation of the quarantine reveals the darker side of human nature.
The year is 1796, and a trading ship arrives in the vibrant trading town of Newburyport, Massachusetts. But it's a ghost ship—her entire crew has been decimated by a virulent fever which sweeps through the harbor town, and Newburyport's residents start to fall ill and die with alarming haste. Something has to be done to stop the virus from spreading further. When physician Giles Wiggins places the port under quarantine, he earns the ire of his shipbuilder half-brother, the wealthy and powerful Enoch Sumner, and their eccentric mother, Miranda. Defiantly, Giles sets up a pest-house, where the afflicted might be cared for and separated from the rest of the populace in an attempt to contain the epidemic.
As the seaport descends into panic, religious fervor, and mob rule, bizarre occurrences ensue: the harbormaster’s family falls victim to the fever, except for his son, Leander Hatch, who is taken in at the Sumner mansion and a young woman, Marie Montpelier, is fished out of the Merrimac River barely clinging to life, causing Giles and Enoch—who is convinced she’s the expatriate daughter of the French king—to vie for her attentions—all while medical supplies are pillaged by a black marketer from Boston. As the epidemic grows, fear, greed, and unhinged obsession threaten the Sumner family—and the future of Newburyport itself.
John Smolens is author of Cold, The Invisible World, Fire Point, and The Anarchist. He received his MFA from the University of Iowa in 1984 and is currently head of the MFA program at Northern Michigan University. His novel The Schoolmaster's Daughter will be published by Pegasus Books in paperback in September, 2012. You can visit his site at www.johnsmolens.com.
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"John Smolens is that rare and gifted writer who can capture both our exterior and interior worlds with equal dexterity, grace and power. His characters will stay with you long after turning the last page." Andre Dubus III, author of 'The House of Sand and Fog'
"Thrilling. The subtlety and vigor with which Smolens evokes this turbulent era makes for more than a superior adventure." Boston Globe