Howard Frank Mosher, longtime resident of the Northeast Kingdom and Vermont's premier storyteller of the last 50 years, died in his Irasburg home in January 2017. One year later, his book of short stories, "Points North" (St. Martin's Press, 2018) has been published, providing his throng of readers one last opportunity to spend a few hours chuckling, crying, and just plain enjoying his final work.
"Points North" continues Mosher's lifelong focus on Kingdom County, a fictional section of the Northeast Kingdom 10 miles south of Canada and hard by the source of the Connecticut River. Filling the books with colorful characters, Mosher has brought this world to life in 13 previous books of fiction and non-fiction, and "Points North" is a fine and fitting coda to that body of work.
Once again, the Kinneson family is front and center. The current generation of Kinnesons in the stories in "Points North" are leading citizens in today's Kingdom County — the editor of the newspaper, the district judge, the sheriff, the town doctor, the principal of the school, and the 102-year-old librarian and historian. Mosher weaves tales of their predecessors through each story, and we learn of their ancestors going back six generations to Charles Kinneson I who entered the county via the Canada Post Road in 1812. From Charles to James I, who seceded from both the US and Canada and governed an independent Kingdom County for 30 years, to the traveling Charles II, who adopted a runaway slave as his brother before the Civil War, to the bootleggers of Prohibition, a colorful cast of Kinnesons have populated Kingdom County of Mosher's books through the years.
"Points North" is particularly rich in memorable characters, but Madge and Bear stand out. Madge is the less conservative and law-abiding of the two daughters of Swale Kinneson. When her sister, the spinster school teacher Mary Mae dies, Madge auctions off her possessions except three items — her complete set of the Harvard Classics, the bookcase in which they sit, and the urn containing Mary Mae's ashes. Madge's trip carrying the urn to Henry David Thoreau's grave in Concord, Massachusetts in order to fulfill Mary Mae's final wish is one of the high points of the book.
Cousin Bear Kinneson is definitely one-of-a-kind. A large, bearded man, Bear is given to wearing flowered housedresses and smoking two White Owl cigars at the same time. Today, he would definitely be considered to be in need of therapeutic intervention, but he's a perfect fit for Kingdom County, where he plays his handmade violin at dances and cares for his childhood sweetheart Hazel. When Bear's cousin Orwell tries to swindle him and then runs over his prized violin with his pickup truck, Bear takes matters into his own hands and shows that he's more clever than the rest of the town, including his cousin Uncle Johnny Kinneson, the sheriff.
Generations of Kinnesons come and go, and even the apparently perpetual land changes with the arrival of wind power turbines on the ridges and Army Corps of Engineers' dams on the rivers. While cherishing the individuality of the Kingdom's people, Mosher also makes it clear that their way of life is disappearing despite all attempts to conserve it. The Great Northern Bog, home to the brook trout that Jim (the editor) and Charlie (the judge) fish for every spring, will soon be flooded and destroyed by a dam. Ezekial Kennison quickly ends his departure to Montana in order to keep watch on his familial homestead now in the shadow of the wind turbines and deeded to his Mexican work crew. On the other hand, the skeleton of Pliny Templeton, the runaway slave preacher saved by his "brother" Charlie Kinneson, returns to his native New Orleans in an act of civil disobedience by the 102 year old Ruth Kinneson. Times change but family remains.
Howard Frank Mosher has been much loved by Vermont readers and writers for decades. A demonstration of that love has been evident during recent weeks when a number of Vermont writers have stood in for Mosher on the traditional book tour. Richard Russo, Bill Schubart, Chris Bohjalian, and others have been joined by Mosher's brother and son and have read from "Points North" at eleven independent bookstores from Harwick to Rutland, from Lyndonville to Norwich. At each of those venues, the writers have read a section of the book and spoken of their gratitude to Mosher, a supportive and generous fellow author. At the event that I attended at the Norwich Book Store, Jeffrey Lent read a wonderful section from the story about Jim and Charlie's encounter with the Corps of Engineers and then shared his reminiscences about how Mosher had befriended him and encouraged his work when he was an aspiring author. Members of the audience shared stories of Mosher's warmth and generosity at conferences, book signings, and in correspondence.
Though Howard Frank Mosher is gone, his work remains, and this final book of stories is a wonderful example of his talent and love for the Northeast Kingdom. The non-traditional book tour is further evidence that this fine Vermonter will continue to be a source of joy and connection for years to come.
Michael F. Epstein is a retired physician who reads and writes in Brownsville, Vt. and Cambridge, Mass. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.