Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Poor Richard's Lament: A Most Timely Tale by Tom Fitzgerald

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Poor Richard's Lament: A Most Timely Tale. Tom Fitzgerald. Hobblebush Books. 2012.  640 pages. ISBN #: 9780984592135.

Expediency is the heart of Tom Fitzgerald's foray into the imaginary life of Benjamin Franklin. For two hundred years have passed since the death of this notable American hero, years that Ben has had to pen the story of his life and include all of his wrongdoings. But Ben has left out quite a bit, and now he stands before his colleagues, now Judges, Alexander Wedderburn, John Adams and the Reverend William Smith. In multiple scenes that almost seem like Scrooge being judged in the well-known A Christmas Carol, heavenly swirls of colors, smoke, and lightning flashes accompany each new revelation that surprisingly damns this historical giant!

For as we proceed, we come to learn that while Ben lived by the virtues of Industry, Frugality, Resolution, Order, Cleanliness, Silence, Chastity, Sincerity, Temperance, Justice, Moderation, and Humility, Expediency was forefront in the way he treated his family. A fine balance of humor and tragedy fill each story as we learn of Ben's abandonment of his wife for years at a time, a sickly woman whose greatest yearning was for the return of her beloved husband. When Ben turned from loyalty to King George III of England, he unfortunately demanded his son William do the same and disowned him as a son after he refused to do so. He who taught his son to always be loyal betrayed both King and progeny forever! 

Fitzgerald is ruthless the way he has the Judges present scenes of Ben and other citizen's slaves being ordered around, beaten, and even tortured to death for amusement. He who spoke about the equality of all denies both the equality of women and slaves. While this sounds severe, Fitzgerald does manage to combine irony, some funny scenes, and a buffoon-like characterization of the Judges that keeps the reader intrigued and flipping the pages.

Finally, Ben is allowed to visit contemporary Philadelphia and other American cities he formerly knew and make a difference. But history repeats itself not for Ben but for others who supposedly admire him but certainly live lives that are bound by the same sense of expediency and hypocrisy, some almost ridiculous and some with horrific results. They include a President and his aide who will do anything to guarantee winning the next election, a drug-free man trying to forge a new life clean of the killer crack and helping others to live instead from a life of dignity and self-respect.

Poor Richard's Lament is certainly not light reading, however this description hardly covers the amazing breadth of Ben's life and influence that is covered herein. Ben is a sympathetic Petitioner and it is the potent scenes that speak most loudly, much more than anyone else's pompous words. This novel is so cleverly constructed and so informative of what the reader probably doesn't know about Ben Franklin's life that the reader is riveted to every page and more so as one progresses. Yes, Ben, "make one's self acceptable in one's own eyes firstly...in the eyes of others foremostly." Great literate historical fiction - one of the most cleverly crafted novels this reviewer has read in years!!!

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