Melancholy Fate of Capt. Lewis

Melancholy Fate of Capt. Lewis

by Michael Pritchett

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While writing a biography of his famous namesake, Bill Lewis, a high-school history teacher, nearly loses himself in his attempts to understand one of the great untold stories in American history—the adventures and subsequent suicide of Meriwether Lewis. Even as he struggles to illuminate that strange and exuberant time and and falls under the spell of the elusively seductive persona of Capt. Lewis, Bill finds himself fighting his own personal crisis, brought on by a clinical depression that threatens not only his book, but his job, his family, his 13-year marriage, and his own survival past the age of 40.

In this rich, confident debut novel, Michael Pritchett not only authentically recreates the world through which Lewis and Clark forced their way, but also finds extraordinary parallels between Capt. Lewis’s doubt about manifest destiny and the contemporary uncertainty of the introspective modern male at a time when all our values are in question.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781932961591
Publisher: Unbridled Books
Publication date: 11/07/2008
Edition description: First Trade Paper Edition
Pages: 400
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.10(d)

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The Melancholy Fate of Capt. Lewis

A Novel of Lewis & Clark
By Michael Pritchett

Unbridled Books

Copyright © 2007 Michael Pritchett
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-932961-41-6

Chapter One

"... conceipt that he heard me coming on ..."

"... About half are dead!" Clark said to his visitor, this Washington Irving, who was nearly as old as he himself. What did they want him to say, and why keep coming year after year when he only said the same things again? Everyone wanted to look into the matter, and always went away unsatisfied with his rote answers.

"I saw him once," this Irving, a famous writer in his own right, said. "At Burr's trial. I didn't know who he was at the time."

Clark waited for a question. Maybe these visitors just needed to talk about Lewis, and of the pain they felt, a flat, empty sense of having missed their own time.

"I wrote a story once, about a man who falls asleep and wakes up in the future," Irving said, having got distracted, no longer taking notes. "A man who goes to investigate a strange thunder in the mountains and encounters some dwarfish men."

Clark raised his head and fixed his gaze on this Irving. "How am I to answer?" he asked. "You wish me to say I heard phantom artillery? What if I did?"

They sat in Clark's study, and he could see out the window to the vegetable garden with one eye, Irving with the other. Clark rather didn't care if he spoke of it now, or never did again, if this fellow remained forever or got swallowed by the earth.

"Just anything, then, or something about Lewis, or the slave, or the Indian girl," Irving said.

"Is that all anyone wants to know?" Clark asked, wishing for a lot of crows, or a bombardment, to come level the house. True love vanished, and then one simply wondered. People came asking all the wrong questions and Clark refused to hint at the right ones. "He predicted his death to Aaron Burr's daughter. Surely you know that much."

"So many of your party are dead so soon," Irving said. "In my late tour of Europe, I met a Mrs. Shelley, an author of tragical romance."

Clark waited, on guard for the question, if there was one. This man's obscure pain or loneliness made him impatient. Clark blew out through his nostrils.

"Forgive me," Irving said, "but I no longer know if America is my country or not. The venom of the reviews of my books I cannot describe. I've given up stories for history."

"He was convinced I was coming behind to save him," Clark said. "I was far away."

"Is't true he was murthered?" Irving asked quickly, head down, one dark eye, one brow darting up to nab his quarry.

"No, of course not! He had a cousin who murdered in a temper, then did himself in. The Lewis's suffer a strain of madness," Clark said. "So too the whole human race!"

Irving, with his gray-black head, thick and wild hair and charcoaled, crazed brows, had the shipwrecked air of men who strike the limits of their talent too soon. Clark got no pleasure from thwarting him and wished to think of a thing he hadn't told yet.

"But why, then?" the fellow asked.

"How shall I answer?" Clark answered. "Sometimes I think it was murder, but a strange, imprecise sort. He seemed unable to live on water, food and air as though denied his proper nutriment on this earth."

O, it was impossible, but impossible, to tell it! Words made everything worse. Nothing ever hit the mark.

"What about women? Did he court? Have affairs?" Irving asked.

Clark shook his head. Always looking in the wrong places, these sleuths.

"Every woman loved Lewis, and no woman did," Clark said. "For how does one love what is not there? I sometimes think we made him up. He represents something we want in the world, and his own ideas about himself be damned!"

"Court-martialed for dueling," Irving said. "Advocated the slaughter of the Arikara Nation." Reading from his notes.

"Acquitted of any wrongdoing," Clark said. "And wrote the Indian policy that restricted white settlement to the Missouri's shore."

"Did you never suspect Neelly, who turned up later with Lewis's guns? Or his valet, Pernia, who showed up actually wearing his clothes?" the upstart asked.

"No, never," Clark said. "But then, I knew him. Never was there a better."

"He had enemies, though," Irving said, flipping back through the pages of his notebook toward the start.

"None so formidable as himself," Clark said. "If he thought it were better to die to bring about a better age, to hasten its coming, he might die."

"I have something here about a Mandan chief-Big White, was it?-who was literally years getting home from Washington," Irving noted.

"A sad case," Clark said. "By the time he was back, nobody believed he'd lived in a marble city filled with white people. Lately, he is said to doubt it himself."

"What of Janey?" Irving asked.

Clark looked across with a jerk of his chin, then a casual recrossing of his gouty, swollen, tender legs. "Dead these twenty years," he said.

"Her son and daughter?"

"The son a lawyer, briefly, now is a mountain guide. Her daughter dead from fever."

"The husband, then?" Clark's head and feet pained him with the coming rain. "O, lively as he ever was and drawing a handsome pension at the Mandan Indian Bureau, God help us."

"Anything more you wish to add?" Irving asked, looking disappointedly through the meager notes.

"Only that Janey's dying, and Theodosia's vanishing with her ship and crew, and the great comet and earthquake of a generation ago all coincided with the murder of George, Lilburne's butter-fingered slave," he said. "Several years ago, the second and third presidents of our country expired together, on the precise day of the fiftieth anniversary of our union."

"What can that mean?" Irving asked.

"Nothing," Clark said, and waited for the demonstrated effect. Perhaps now he would go away. Perhaps now they'd all go away and let him die. "A pity about your bad reviews," he added.

Irving could not meet his eye. "Yes, thank you. No life is without its painful reflections," he said. "But what of this rumor, by the way, that your slave York is in fact not dead but has made of himself a Crow chief in the Colorado territory?"

"He is dead," Clark said firmly. "Of yellow fever in Tennessee. But write it any way you wish."

"Do you think your friend ever had any lover? What about Burr's daughter, this Theodosia?"

Clark sighed and peeled dead skin from his thumb's pad. "Write it however you wish."

"What about the girl? The interpretess?" Irving asked. His lamp-lights now glowed full hot as he regarded Clark and a red, like burns, wounded both his cheeks.

"Impossible. And if you write that, I'll sue," Clark said.

Irving seemed poised toward one more inquiry, but was warned by Clark's tipping his chin down an additional degree as if to reach out and seize him. Which he would do, Clark feared, and with a strange cry, too, a hysteric sob. It seemed he had, in some way, become Lewis after his death, as though the absence of one required he play both parts.

"I do sometimes think the president was a kind of diabolic rationalist, a madman of empiricism," Clark said. "And Lewis his re-animate creature."

Clark felt it clearly, at last, that same helpless hysteria that Lewis must have known, the wish to get up and shove this Irving over in his chair. He was at last starting to see exactly how mad Lewis had been, and in which directions. "So what did really happen between you and Mrs. Shelley?" he asked suddenly.

"Nothing at all. We met one night at the opera. But I saw something there, back of her eyes, and chose not to investigate," Irving said.

"You should know that my servant York was a very great dissembler, shape-shifter, and liar. A regular Baron Münchhausen. He probably started that Crow chief story himself."

"We will never know," Irving said, noting something on his little "reporter's" pad.

"I freed the fellow, and then he has the nerve to return to me later and damn his freedom to my face, saying it is nothing of the sort, and worse than his shackles had been," Clark said. "Imagine the cheek!"

"You were Lewis's dearest friend," Irving said abruptly. "Did you feel responsible?"

Clark lurched inside and fleered sideways, but outwardly knew he appeared unfazed and innocent of even the faintest blush. The room tried to turn over on its edge, then righted itself. Irving shewed no sign of having seen. "One always wishes to have done one more thing for a dead friend," he said. It was this Irving's last attempt to unseat him, last and best, and had failed, Clark was fairly convinced.

Irving paused over a lengthy note to himself. The mantel clock ticked off the instants left until death.

"One felt responsible for Lewis," Clark added, taking himself by surprise. "And wished to be like him and liked by him. Without the help of others, and guidance and temperance, he would perish, one felt fairly sure. He blundered blindly toward great things, and believed you'd help him, and e'en depended on 't. He saw our potential, but fought back despair brought on by keen, sensitive perception of the problem and its scope."

Irving wrote that. They both listened to the clock. "Are you familiar with Gulliver's Travels?" Irving asked.

"Yes," Clark said, looking up. "I seem to recall ... early in our journey ..."

"Those people believed that Gulliver's watch was his god because he was constantly checking its face, as if for reassurance," Irving said.

Clark waited for a point, then understood that was it.

"What about the all-water route?" Irving asked.

"For all we know, it is still out there, waiting for discovery. And the Northwest Passage, too," Clark said.

"Do you truly think that?" Irving asked, pen paused.

"I am not certain that I ever did think it, or that it mattered to me," he said, looking upward for the answer. "My friend asked me to join him, in triumph or in ruin."

He was at last pleased by something he had said in the interview, and resolved to end it.

"Or both," Irving said.

"Or both," Clark concurred.

"Do you know," Irving said, "that an angel of the Lord has recently appeared to a man in upper-state New York on four separate occasions? And that he has found, buried in the woods, some heretofore unknown books of the Holy Scriptures?"

"In New York?" Clark said. "Well, that sounds unlikely, does it not?"

Irving sat still and stared at the black, waxed floor planks as though he were wishing it to be true, as if wanting a new' faith to go along with his return to the new continent. Clark felt embarrassed, like he had disappointed a younger version of himself. "This new age is confusing," Clark said. "In a way, one misses the Spanish and the unquestionable right of conquest. Lewis would disagree, but where is he now? Do you see him here or there? When a man speaks too long and loudly for the Enlightenment, it seems the world must kill him."

Clark was aware of saying things he never ever had, so this must be the last person who would come asking.

"But why?" Irving asked, as if waiting earnestly, erectly, to know.

"Very simply, this must not be the actual world, but something merely painted on its surface," Clark said. "Otherwise, life would matter and we would take every, measure to preserve it. Instead, we recklessly chance everything. And if not slaughtered that time, we do it again. The notion that life is precious is the greatest lie of our age. What matters are the passions, the thrilling lusts of rage, desire, and hatred. Nothing else is actually here."

Irving was writing quickly, trying to get it, note for note. "Do you have it, then?" Clark asked. "Are we finished?"

"Yes, I believe so ...

Chapter Two

"... cutting himself from head to foot ..."

At long last, Lewis had come to the place, a hollow by the side of the road, an inn simple as that which snubbed Mary. O, here, finally, was the large house with milled boards! And a cabin of roughcut timber, a barn with a trotting-horse weather vane and honeysuckle on the post box. Also, an arbor, some limestone steps, and a dirt lane between house and privy.

The smokehouse door was propped with a stone, flies swirling 'round glazed hard rinds of hams. His gown was dry, despite attempts to drown in the river. Now only Pernier knew, and what he knew nobody else ever would, because of his marked silence. Pernier took the horses under a tree and waited there, staring at the ground, apparently having one of his philosophical discoveries. Pernier was wise, poor, and free. But if he ever left Lewis, he must simply take up with another great person.

The keeper's wife greeted them, and liveried the horses. Then showed him the place. "Pernier and I like to sleep under the stars, except in bitter weather," he said. "Yet your inn is fine as any like it in the world."

No doubt, she brewed a weak coffee and larded rather than buttered the morning cake. But was honest, good, hard as bricks if tried, in all ways a credit to her kind. She offered her bed. "I have not gone near one in years," he said, panting and holding his head. "A bed is the shape of a grave."

He would rest on the hard floor in the buffalo robes, the ones that were his bed in Her wilderness.

Trees overarched that road thickly to the east, more sparsely to the west.

He sought a vantage point in order to look back. The clouds, spread across the horizon, were true anvils, purple-black and full of rain. They blocked the sun. The rays broke forth in ev'ry direction, illumining random pieces of ground. The picture shimmered, as if trying to collapse altogether. He'd come far, but could not see a road. A heaviness in his sight promised a sleep e'en the trumpets of Judgment wouldn't break. There was no joy in anything, except the evening, the sweetest he'd known.

He sat bitterly shaking in the lengthening gloomy light. That lady brought her sewing out and sat in her rocker. Her nimble hands, separate from her intent, still form, tried to restore order to a chaotic void. It wasn't the chair which rocked, but the world that moved while she stayed in place. She was the center. O, Copernicus, revise your formulae, for a new body stands still in the heavens!

He'd never felt content as just himself, and was not now. He'd started as an industrious eldest son, wonder boy, who ran the farm and its indentured blacks. Yet all along, he'd been indentured, too! For being great only meant labouring under a great yoke. But what was wrong with the world could not be righted from this side, the living side, of it.

Lewis guzzled his whiskey, mind tumbling and staggering while he drank and drank and stayed perfectly sober. The lady in the center. Her chickens scratching in the dirt, her horse kicking in the barn, as her sun plunged into her Pacific whose waters lapped along her vast, impious soul. But he'd seen what Columbus never did! Yet it would not help finish her sewing by dark.

Wishing to speak to her, his mind was a tangle. Pacing outside the cabin, he was trying to outrace fate, seeing the open door and blanching, stumbling away. He'd produced no true accounting. But how could he tell one story while holding back another? If only, when he'd come back to the world, the world had been there. But it was nowhere. This lady rocking, just miles from where she was born, was now the whole thing. Columbus, dying of the syph in the tropics, knew this at the end.

When Lewis was a boy, they'd said the world revolved at furious speed. So he tested this by leaping into the air-and coming down in the same place.

That lady's eye was on him. She looked up to plot his trajectories toward and away from her. She knew distresses of the soul, how to recognize the signs in cows, pigs and men. He needed to speak to her with his knotted, poor tongue. His servant, Pernier, attended all from the shade of a flow'ring crab. And knew and knew, and said nothing.

Clark would catch him up, Lewis was sure. Clark would not let him perish alone here. He simply had to last a bit longer. Still, all was in readiness for his crossing over.

And they had toiled so furiously upstream, while this place, o'er-reached by trees, struck by hard lines of radiant light, blindly waited. Locust Hill, snowy mornings, his dogs, Mother's face. That sad monster called boyhood. Lewis's throat constricted, and swallowing became impossible. In the end, a body simply outlived its usefulness.

He was now in for the worst. The heart beat and beat and need run itself out.

O, to see his Janey again! For hers was a soul so grim, stoic, and resolute. We are sent to keep one other person alive. And not 'til the end do we know which one was ours, which was the one we were sent for. All of one's good was displayed in a moment. But not 'til the end did one know which moment.

Wishing to speak to that lady, he saw she was just now occupied with the memory of a dead child, and turned away. By not marrying, he'd at least been spared that!


Excerpted from The Melancholy Fate of Capt. Lewis by Michael Pritchett Copyright © 2007 by Michael Pritchett. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Melancholy Fate of Capt. Lewis 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
staffoa on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
With just a taste of this novel based on the excerpt I received, I am unsure if I will bother with the entire novel. I found it difficult to be drawn into the story of Lewis & Clark and their expedition, though if I felt the need to truly understand that piece of history, this might be the book to finally gain my interest. I was intrigued by the mental processes of Bill Lewis, but enough to drag myself through the historical portions?
bhowell on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I have just completed this brilliant 1st novel kindly sent to me for review. It is clear that this author has spent many hours researching his history including the most important primary source, the daily journals written by members of the Lewis Clark expedition. This book could be characterized in many ways. It is first of all a carefully researched historical novel. It could also be described as a parallel study of depression as it affected two men, Bill Lewis, a middle aged high school teacher of history in the present and his distant ancestor Capt Lewis. Bill Lewis is trying to write a book on his famous ancestor. Both men suffer from severe bouts of clinical depression which frequently disrupt their work and personal life. The book moves back and forth between the past and the present seamlessly and the reader is presented with two stories. Will Bill Lewis survive the writing of his book, and the chaos in his private life without following the example of his ancestor and ending his life? Both stories are interesting. While the author is clearly using his imagination in the description of Lewis' state of mind and feelings during the expedition and for the few years he lived thereafter, this is a novel after all. His imagination however rings quite true to the facts. The most oustanding feature of this book is the beautiful prose. We find that in his descriptions of the pristine beauty of the American west as it was in that time as well as in descriptions of mental torment.If you grew up thinking that Lewis & Clark were perfect American heroes, then this book gives you a dose of reality. They are still heroes but history should not ignore significant facts.Their expedition was not the sugar coated version that I read on the PBS website for example. Lewis was a complex man and he did evil as well as good. This unfortunately is the case with many of our white male heroes. In Canada, for example there was a certain Captain or General Amhurst. In eastern Canada,mostly in the maritime provinces, there are streets named after him and other public tributes. Yet he deliberatly wiped out a complete tribe of Indians by supplying them with smallpox infected blankets. A montrous crime as it is seen now and ,yes, in the minds of most Canadians his hero status has some definite flaws. Both Lewis and Clark for example had black slaves and Clark beat his slave at will. Lewis , in his bitterness, ordered the extermination of at least one and probably two tribes of native Americans. On the other hand he suggested that the American mid-west should not be settled and the native Americans be left as they were. His actions were frequently inconsistent. He is not alone in this but his disabling mental illness and his inability at times to react rationally seems more pronounced. He could not control his emotions because he could not control the overwhelming blackness that descended from time to time. At that time it was referred to as melancholy and there was no treatment. He suffered greatly and it is to his credit that he managed this trip at all. When he returned the American government refused to honour his unlimited line of credit and he was beseiged by creditors whom he felt honor bound to pay. He gave up most of his property to pay them. He felt betrayed by his own government and a failure. His depression would have amplified those feelings and diminished his ability to deal agressively and effectively with them. Clark kept saying it would be all right in the end but Lewis had no strength to wait and hope because of his state of mind. He was the first American to reach the Pacific though given the short history of the nation that is somewhat a doubtful honour. The Canadian explorer McKenzie had been there first and with fewer men. So had the Spaniards. So had probably some unknown Americans. The expedition did not find anything the American president wanted which included a navigable river cutting across the US and
karen_o on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
High school teacher Bill Lewis is writing a book on Capt. Merriwether Lewis and his Voyage of Discovery in 1804. Told in alternating sections contrasting the early 19th and early 21st centuries, we follow Capt Lewis through his search for the Northwest Passage to his years recommending Indidan policy as Governor of the Louisiana territory to his sucide just three years after the voyage's end. At the same time we learn of Bill, his struggle with depression, his troubled marriage, his perhaps more troubled adolescent son and a high school student who has a child and leaves school. There was something about this book that was just so emotionally affecting and I'm afraid I don't quite know how to put that into words. While there was some repetition between the sections and people in Bill's life did occasionally seem to ask about his writing a bit more frequently than I might expect anyone in [i]my[/i] life to do, I didn't really find that detracting from the story. All in all, I found this to be a truly excellent read and it did most certainly make me interested in reading more about the journey of Lewis and Clark, as the author hopes in his end notes.I give this one ****1/2 only because I really hesitate to give any book 5 out of 5.
alaskabookworm on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Michael Pritchett¿s debut novel, ¿The Melancholy Life of Capt. Lewis¿ has a Faulkner-esque quality; a dense, multi-layering of past and present; a gradual unfolding of plot and circumstances. Pritchett¿s control of this technically difficult story-telling method is admirable.When I started ¿Melancholy Life,¿ I was insecure about never having read a history of the Lewis & Clark expedition. Though for years I¿ve had a copy of Stephen Ambrose¿s ¿Undaunted Courage,¿ I¿ve yet to read it. At times I was tempted to put ¿Melancholy Fate¿ down, quickly read the Ambrose, and then start back up again. In the end, I let my ignorance of Lewis & Clark be a kind of litmus to how well-told ¿Melancholy Fate¿ would be. I had no preconceived notions, nothing to compare the story to.As the title suggests, this is a story in which the two main characters, Meriwether Lewis and a contemporary character, Bill Lewis, both suffer from ¿melancholy,¿ that is, profound depressive episodes. The story see-saws back and forth between Capt. Lewis¿ exploratory journey, and the present-day Bill, who is a high-school history teacher attempting to write a book about the historical Lewis. The parallels between the two Lewis¿ is clear: depression to the point of insanity, difficulty in interpersonal relationships, attraction to unattainable women, same last name (there is no hint of them being related). The historical details of the early Lewis narrative are sparse. Pritchett is more concerned with painting a kind of abstract of Lewis ¿ what he might have been thinking and feeling, how these thoughts might have influenced his actions and words, as recorded by history and by his own extensive journals. During the present-day narratives, Bill fills in more historical details during many conversations with other characters. As the book progresses towards the historical Lewis¿ inevitable(?) suicide (or was it a murder ¿ that is a question Bill Lewis wrestles over), there is a mounting tension in the present, in which the reader wonders whether Bill, who is similar to Lewis is so many ways, will follow the same course. His emotional state is so convincingly miserable, even the reader wonders how he could possibly keep going on. The psychological rendering of both main characters is excellent. Any reader who has had experience with depression will be able to strongly identify with them. However, while I was able to maintain sympathy for Meriwether throughout the story, there was a point where I just wanted to slap Bill and say, ¿Better living through chemistry, dude.¿ There is very little reference to medication or medical help for depression in general. Towards the beginning of the story, there is an incident that suggests Bill neglects his own medical care, which is troubling, because in this day and age, so much of what Meriwether would have been helpless against, Bill could have received help for. It could be that Bill¿s neglect of his personal health (as also illustrated by a smoking habit) is a deliberate attempt to get inside the mind and experience of the historical Lewis, or perhaps he is just simply so depressed he doesn¿t care. If the latter is Pritchett¿s intent, it is masterfully done, if not terribly evident to the reader.The book sets the reader up for a profound, end-of-the-story kind of redemption and revelation, and while I really think Pritchett is aiming for this ¿ a glimmer of hope with which to leave the reader ¿ I don¿t really think he pulls it off. The readers lives so deeply inside the misery and insanity of both Lewis¿ inner lives for so long, that it¿s hard to come back from that place. What I loved best about this book, was the historical drawing of Meriwether Lewis, the sense of exploring a new land for the very first time. The idea that in discovering something, in both the naming and measuring of it, its mystery ¿ its beauty and purity ¿ can be diminished. Meriwether and Bill both sense a kind of malevolenc
readingrebecca on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Melancholy Fate of Capt. Lewis by Michael Pritchett was a fascinating, engrossing book. I looked forward to reading this book so much as this summer my husband and I took a trip following a northwest route, some of it following the same route taken during Lewis and Clark¿s famous journey. I stood at Cape Disappointment where Lewis and Clark stood, trying to imagine their reaction to what they saw. Almost impossible to imagine as the whole developed country lay behind me and a vast wilderness lay behind Lewis and Clark at they looked out at the Pacific. While the language used, that of the nineteenth century, was difficult to read and somewhat slow going, it fit the story and made it feel quite real. The story is told in two voices, that of Capt. Meriwether Lewis and of Bill Lewis, a high school history teacher who is trying to write the history of Capt. Lewis. As the book progresses, you find that Capt. Lewis and Bill Lewis share many traits, one being an overwhelming depression, to the point of wondering how each got up every morning to do the work assigned to them. Bill Lewis is hampered by many factors, his marriage is in trouble, his son won¿t eat and he has an irresistible impulse to associate with women who will only further damage his marriage. He despairs of ever finding whether Capt. Lewis actually committed suicide or was murdered. Overall this was an engrossing, excellent book. The overwhelming amount of research to write this book was obvious and a job well done. I look forward to reading other books by Mr. Pritchett.
RoxieF on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book starts off strong. I found the parts about Capt. Lewis interesting, and the story of the modern day character engaging also. The problem is the book got so boring in the middle I found I couldn't go on even though I wanted to know what happened. I picked it up several different times and it just seems to be stuck, going nowhere, so I finally gave up.
harstan More than 1 year ago
High school history teacher Bill Lewis decides to write a biography of his famous namesake Meriwether Lewis to be completed in time to meet the bicentennial anniversary of the renowned explorer¿s suicide, October 11, 1809. Bill researches Meriwether¿s interaction with the Burrs, father and daughter, who expected to become the empires of the west when they led the succession from the union. The modern day teacher studies the Lewis and Clark expedition and his subsequent time as governor of the Louisiana Territory. Meriwether meets other famous figures upon his return to DC as he has a hero¿s welcome. Eventually he slid into depression and three years after his triumphant return with Clark from the Pacific, broke and addicted, Meriwether killed himself. Meanwhile in the present Bill has family problems caused by his teenage son who refuses to eat. This leads Bill back into clinical depression which jeopardizes his biography and his marriage. --- The story line rotates between the modern day subplot and that of the early nineteenth century. Both are well written as readers obtain a sense that besides the same surname, the two Lewis males suffer similar mental problems. Fascinatingly the current Lewis with his everyday family life is the more passionate segue. Somewhat this is so because of the recent focus on the two hundredth anniversary of the Lewis and Clark expedition to find a Northwest passage so that Meriwether¿s emotional collapse and suicide has become well documented abating the impact. Biographical fiction fans will appreciate the comparison between a legend and an everyman who is the hero depends on who is deciding as Bill¿s family might choose him for his efforts to overcome his depression to try to be there for them. --- Harriet Klausner