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Jack Zaleski, Published December 10 2011

Zaleski: Another marvelous book from Lent

One of the best novelists writing today is Vermont’s Jeffrey Lent. His four books are compelling portraits of character, place and narrative. If you are a fan of well-told yarns or are considering books as gifts for your reading friends this Christmas, Lent’s work will not disappoint.

I had the privilege of meeting the author in September during a visit to Vermont. He and his young family live near Chelsea, just down the road from my daughter’s home. While in law school, she had been their baby sitter and became a family friend. Lent and I spent a delightful couple of hours together in the fall sunshine, talking literature, farming and Vermont history. Unassuming but intense, Lent does not fit the stereotype of an author with four novels in print. No pretense or condescension in him.

Two of his four books are set in old Vermont. One is a modern-day tale. The latest strays from previous books’ times and places and carries the reader from Elmira, N.Y., to maritime Canada to Amsterdam.

I’ve written about his books before. My favorite, “Lost Nation,” is the basis of a Lent-written screenplay. He is negotiating the byzantine world of moviemaking as he and film people go about the task of casting a possible feature film.

“In the Fall” and “A Peculiar Grace” take up Lent’s theme of a central character confronting extraordinary circumstances with the strengths and weaknesses that define the human condition, sometimes resulting in great joy, other times plunging the story into heart-wrenching pain or darkness too bleak to imagine.

His newest book is “After You’ve Gone,” which one reviewer described as “a story of love and loss … truly an emotional journey.” It is that and more. Lent weaves the nuances of setting around his characters so that as they emerge from the narrative, the effects of place complete them and the story. “After You’ve Gone” is a marvelous multigenerational saga, replete with complex and subtle emotional currents that carry the reader along to a conclusion that – well – find out for yourself.

About conclusions. By my reading, Lent’s “A Peculiar Grace” ends enigmatically. Readers I know who have read the book have different takes on the end, specifically a decision the protagonist makes or does not make. I asked Lent about it. We discussed it at length. In his note in a gift copy of “After You’ve Gone,” he revealed how he meant “A Peculiar Grace” to end. “Can’t be,” I said. I read the book again.

I still disagree with the author. Maybe that’s what great literature is all about: emotional ambiguity, situational complexity and richness of meaning. Lent’s work has it all.

Find his books. If they are not on the shelf at your bookstore, get ’em ordered. Great reads for you, great gifts for your friends.

Contact Editorial Page Editor Jack Zaleski at (701) 241-5521.