I don’t read a lot of fiction. When I do, it’s usually when I have some rare leisure time, as I had recently on a brief trip to Florida. I grabbed a bunch of books by some well-known and critically acclaimed writers, but the book I enjoyed the most was written by a fiction writer better known as a singer/songwriter than as an author.
I picked up Bill Morrissey’s book, Edson (Alfred A. Knopf, 1996) at the Portland Public Library before I left. I had a couple of other recommended books, but thought I should have an “extra” on hand, just in case.
Morrissey, with 11 albums to his credit since 1984, is a respected name in the new folk movement. His songs have always been literate and evocative. A songwriter with the gift for painting intimate portraits of people, particularly those living in the small towns one finds scattered throughout New England, the transition to author in 1996 appeared to be a seamless one.
Edson tells the story of Henry Corvine, a folksinger whose career has ground to a halt and he ends up holed up in a fictional mill town in New Hampshire. Having put away his guitar after becoming burned out and disillusioned after he is dropped from his record company, Corvine could be countless singers, who give up after grinding out their craft in coffeehouses and bars across the country. Because Morrissey brings a wealth of similar experiences to his prose, Corvine, as well as the other characters in Edson are believable and make the reader care what happens to them.
Without being overtly autobiographical, Morrissey’s only foray into fiction made me long for a follow-up. While not a household name like Richard Ford, Tim O’Brien and other better-known writers covering similar terrain, Morrissey more than holds his own in the genre.
I’d recommend this book to anyone who enjoys the rhythm of small town life and the battles that working class people wage to make a living and remain human. Morrissey gives us an accurate portrait and one that was difficult for me to put down.