New City, The

( 10 )


A thought-prooking thriller and a literate page-turner, Stephen Amidon's The New City takes aim at the suburban American dream and captures the real nightmare behind it.
It is 1973, the Vietnam War is winding down and the Senate Watergate hearings are heating up. But Newton, Maryland, is a model community, an enclave of harmony and prosperity. Through years of cunning legal maneuvering and smooth real-estate deals, the white lawyer Austin Swope has made the dream of this new ...

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The New City: A Novel

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A thought-prooking thriller and a literate page-turner, Stephen Amidon's The New City takes aim at the suburban American dream and captures the real nightmare behind it.
It is 1973, the Vietnam War is winding down and the Senate Watergate hearings are heating up. But Newton, Maryland, is a model community, an enclave of harmony and prosperity. Through years of cunning legal maneuvering and smooth real-estate deals, the white lawyer Austin Swope has made the dream of this new city a reality. His best friend is Earl Wooten, the black master builder who raised Newton from its foundations. Their teenaged sons, Teddy and Joel, each the repository of his father's deepest hopes for the future, are inseparable buddies. But cracks begin to appear in this pristiine and meticulously planned community, and an innocent misunderstanding is about to set the two men who control its quiet streets on a fateful collision course.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Trouble in Paradise

Stephen Amidon's surprising new social novel, The New City, begins with a race riot. At the teen center in Newton, Maryland—an idealistic planned community that hopes to become an example of what the novel's title announces—a group of "hard-eyed crackers with stringy goatees" have taken it upon themselves to drive out the black teenagers—who favor the O'Jays and Stevie Wonder—by repeatedly blasting Edgar Winter's "Frankenstein." The year is 1973. When the black teens protest—by tearing the needle off the record player—a fight breaks out. The center is badly damaged.

Austin Swope, the lawyer who runs the city, knows that reopening the teen center will only result in another riot, and so the damaged building remains boarded up for the rest of the novel, like a soothsayer on the edge of town to whose tragic auguries no one will listen. Indeed, the racial tension that begins the book is the fuel that drives the magnificently hopeless plot forward. In The New City, Amidon has written the great novel of late-century suburban racial strife.

At the center of the story, and the town, are two families, one black and one white. Swope is a crafty white lawyer whose sometimes shady land deals have made Newton possible; Earl Wooten is his partner, a black master-builder who has overseen construction of the town. The mastermind behind their efforts is an idealistic architect named Barnaby Vine, a former apprentice of Louis Sullivan's, who has been relegated to the background of the story (Chicago, literally) by a massive stroke. Vine envisions Newton as "[t]he place where people would finally start living like they could"—a paradise of mixed-income housing without a single power line or billboard to blot out the pacifying sky. Amidon, an American who was a journalist in London for many years, builds the social dynamic of Newton with an architectural flair that Barnaby Vine himself would envy. Every character is load-bearing. Earl Wooten's wife, Ardeila, is the no-nonsense principal of the high school; his son Joel's white girlfriend, Susan Truax—their interracial coupling becomes the story's seed of destruction—is the daughter of a Vietnam veteran. Amidon uses his characters to draw into the story all the activity and ideology of the era. At times, the novel leans toward the territory of the classical American allegory—Amidon's architecture has a certain 19th-century wholeness to it—but the author's irresistible flair for dialogue and detail infuses it with buoyancy and surprise.

Swope's and Wooten's sons are the first fruits of Vine's plan. Teddy Swope, whose 1590 SAT scores have landed him two scholarships to Harvard, and Joel Wooten, a charming ladies' man with his own scholarship to Bucknell, have been best friends since their fathers first brought them to the vast construction site that would become Newton. Questions of race rarely enter their relationship, though Teddy worships John Lennon while Joel seems to listen exclusively to Stevie Wonder. Amidon draws these characters with vivid strokes. Teddy, when recalling all the girls who have flocked to his best friend over the years, finds comfort in musing, "They were just a bunch of Cynthias anyway. His Yoko had yet to arrive."

Amidon, whose previous works of fiction include Subdivision (1992), Thirst (1993), and The Primitive (1995), has the fine ear for historical detail that comes only from having lived through the era portrayed, and his novel is sprinkled with casual reference points that slowly immerse us in the America of 1973. When Austin Swope hires John Truax as his personal detective, he hears the voiceover of a ubiquitous television commercial run through his head: "Don't forget, hire the vet."

It is this hiring that begins the novel's tragic downward spiral. Wooten has been called to Chicago for a meeting with Newton's parent corporation, EarthWorks. He is advised by the slick CEO of the company to tell no one of his trip. When Swope uncovers all of this, with the help of his new private detective, he assumes that Wooten is going to be offered the position of Newton City Manager, an appointment Swope has long expected, and which, in a wildly ambitious inner monologue, he imagines to be the first in a series of stepping stones that lead all the way to the White House. Enraged, Swope declares a covert war on Wooten, using Truax to carry out his missions, which consist mostly of defamation and disruption, though Swope also has a master plan for framing Wooten for extensive fraud. Truax, whose first post-service job as a Newton real estate salesman was more or less a disaster, couldn't be happier. He prowls around the forests of Newton, seeing how long he can go without sleep, subsisting on Ho Hos and coffee, and recalling with grim satisfaction his exploits in the jungles of Vietnam, where he was apparently a legend among both armies.

But all three men have other problems. Both the Wootens and the Truaxs have opposed Joel and Susan's relationship from the start—Earl Wooten on the grounds that it is simply bad medicine; Irma Truax, a German émigré, for slightly more offensive reasons. Irma is the only true racist in the novel; the rest of the characters simply fall prey to their petty prejudices. When Joel and Susan are caught in medias res by Susan's parents, they are forbidden to see each other anymore. Teddy masterminds a plan to reunite them, while his father plots Earl Wooten's downfall. The two crises dovetail with film noir hopelessness, one irretrievable misjudgment leading right to the next, hurtling us unstoppably toward the tragic finale. Amidon is good at surprising us in the last 100 or so pages, spinning unforeseen outcomes that immediately seem inevitable and ultimately, profound.

Jacob Silverstein

Jacob Silverstein lives in Marfa, Texas.

About the Author

An American who lived and worked in London for 15 years as a journalist, editor, and reviewer, Stephen Amidon now lives in Greenfield, Massachusetts, with his wife and children.

From the Publisher
?Amidon's plot is so tightly and ingeniously constructed that the book becomes absolutely riveting.??Newsday
Deirdre Donahue
Read Stephen Amidon's The New City It's engaging, it's provocative, and it has a plot stuffed with such deftly handled big issues as race, idealism, class conflict, urban planning, Vietnam and how parents can destroy a child with love.
USA Today
Tom Vanderbilt
Amidon's book is an honest and searching look at the human relationships that are at the root of abstract categories like race and class and at the center of often equally abstract communities, whether urban or suburban, real or imagined. It reminds us that while environments can be rigorously planned for maximum uplift, there is no accounting for human behavior.
Los Angeles Times Book Review
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Amidon, an American writer who has lived in London for many years, was brought up, he tells us, in a "planned city"--in his case, Columbia, Md.--and he has made such a city the setting for this ambitious and effective social drama, which offers a nod to Othello in theme if not quite in tragic dimension. Austin Swope is city manager of the community, still under development as the story opens and just beginning to be visited by the kind of racial problems the residents of such places went there to avoid. His best friend and closest colleague is Earl Wooten, the black construction chief who has dragged himself up from poverty to a level of power almost equal to Swope's own. And there's the rub: Swope convinces himself that Wooten is plotting behind his back to take his job; when Wooten's son Joel (who is also best friend of Swope's bright son, Teddy) becomes romantically involved with Susan Truax, a pretty, white girl from considerably lower in the social scale, the scene is set for what will eventually become a fearsome showdown. The time is 1973, with the Vietnam War winding down, the Watergate hearings in full swing and youthful drug taking the order of the day, and Amidon doesn't miss a beat in catching the tenor of the era (Teddy is a devotee of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, and thinks the rest of the Beatles are a waste of time). As in Shakespeare's original, Swope's endless conniving is somewhat baffling, and Wooten is given some tragic flaws that mar his large humanity. But there is the same inexorable sense of doom about the course of events, aided here by some powerful character sketches: Irma Truax, the racist German refugee who is Susan's mother; Wooten's wife, Ardelia, an ebony tower of strength to her bewildered husband; the calculating, bloodless execs back at the head office in Chicago. The plotting is adroit if sometimes overly contrived, the narrative grip fierce, and the book is head and shoulders above most commercial thrillers. What keeps it from attaining tragic stature is a certain glibness and flatness in the writing and an airlessness that is perhaps inevitable in so tightly focused a setting. (Jan.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Summer 1973. The quiet streets and idyllic parks of Newton, a planned community near Washington, DC, belie rumblings of imminent trouble: a race riot at the Teen Center, gaslight explosions, and dead fish in the stocked lake. At the center of it all are two seemingly successful men: Austin Swope, a white lawyer whose business acumen made the city possible, and his best friend, Earl Wooten, a black master-builder who crafted it from the ground up. Their relationship is sorely tested when Swope, convinced that his friend is after his job as city manager, turns suspicious and vengeful. Small misunderstandings escalate into Watergate era-sized paranoia, betrayal, and, ultimately, tragedy. Amidon's (The Primitive; Subdivision) well-developed characters are human and deeply flawed; his novel stands as a modern allegory on race relations, suburban living, and social engineering. Thought-provoking and timely given recent "dream" developments such as Disney's Celebration community in Florida, this is recommended for all libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 9/15/99.]--Christine Perkins, Jackson Cty Lib. Svcs., Medford, OR Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Vanessa V. Friedman
Impressively imagined and controlled, this ambitious novel manages to be both metaphor and tale, a parable of a nation's loss of innocence reflected in a small town's pool.
Entertainment Weekly
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385497633
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 2/20/2001
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 464
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Meet the Author

Stephen Amidon is the author of four previous works of fiction, including Subdivision (1992), Thirst (1993), and The Primitive (1995). An American who lived and worked in London for fifteen years as a journalist, editor, and reviewer, he now lives in Greenfield, Massachusetts, with his wife and children.

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Read an Excerpt

At first, the damage didn't look that bad. There was a jagged crack running through the front door's glass, but that could have happened in a hundred innocent ways. And the lobby's disorder—sand spilled from an upright ashtray and a scattering of drug awareness pamphlets—looked like the usual by-products of teen rowdiness. As Austin Swope stepped onto the metal staircase that helixed up into the converted silo, he began to think that maybe the security people had exaggerated when they spoke of a riot.

Hope disappeared when he reached the second floor. Unmistakable signs of violence were everywhere. Shattered glass and wads of bloodied toilet paper littered the pale carpet. A modular chair had been splintered and the crusted discharge of a fire extinguisher patterned the wall. There was an angry divot on the pool table's baize, partially covered by a forsaken sneaker. Swope sighed audibly. This would be impossible to whitewash. Chicago would hear about it, if they hadn't already. And they would not like it.

The third floor was even worse. He stepped gingerly through the debris, careful not to sully his custom-made wing tips. The wood paneling up here was pocked in several places by indentations, one deep enough to expose a cluster of electrical wiring. The Ping-Pong table listed on two bent legs like a camel ready for dismounting. Several windows had been smashed. A broken pool cue impaled the ceiling's acoustical tiles and the door to the director's office had been kicked off its hinges. Swope righted a toppled stool and perched gingerly on its edge. It's always the kids, he thought. They start, and then we have to finish.

He closed his eyes, suddenly wishing himself far away from here, deep in some distant election year, when his name was a household object and the dirty work of clearing up petty messes was left to lesser men. As a means of solace, he called up one of the imaginary commercials he deployed in times of stress. This one opened with him striding purposefully through some blasted urban landscape, a wasteland of smoldering storefronts, roof-scouring National Guardsmen and clusters of wary locals. He is moving with such resolve that his advisors must double-step to match his gait. Those churning opening bars of Mahler's Sixth provide the sound track. Suddenly, fearlessly, he peels away from his escort, heading toward a clutch of angry black faces. The camera circles as he engages them in direct dialogue. His tone is stern but compassionate. Snatches of the exchange can be heard through the swelling music. Words like renewal and responsibility. Citizenship. Hope. Those furious faces soften. He shakes a proffered hand, pats a young head. The music reaches a crescendo as the camera freezes on his face.

Austin Swope, the bass voice-over says. Because in a crisis, we need a leader.

Or maybe:

Austin Swope. Tough decisions for tough times.

He still hadn't decided which was better.

His reverie was interrupted by a scuffling footfall. He turned to see the EarthWorks security guard who'd admitted him, a young man with long, greasy hair tucked inconclusively into his cap. His uniform was a couple sizes too big, making him look like an inmate of some underfunded prison. In keeping with company policy, he was unarmed. He eyed Swope with a slack, vaguely defensive expression.


The man recoiled slightly at Swope's stern voice. No wonder these kids run riot, Swope thought.

"I just wanted to see if you needed anything."

"The National Guard."

The man's brow folded in confusion.

"I don't suppose you know what happened," Swope continued, realizing wit was not on the guy's agenda.

"I came on duty at seven. They said keep an eye on the place 'til you got here, was all." The man sensed that Swope found this answer unsatisfactory. "Though from what I hear there were cops everywhere."

"Any idea where the center directors are?"

"They called in sick."

"Sick? When?"

"Last night."

"You mean the place was without any supervision when this happened?" Swope asked incredulously.

The man shrugged. He hadn't been on duty. Swope took one last disgusted look around, then led the guard back down the spiral stairs, feeling an unwelcome suck at his soles from a pool of stickiness cascading over the risers. In the lobby he paused in front of the portrait of the city's designer, benevolent old Barnaby Vine. A crudely drawn penis now tickled his jugged left ear. The guard awaited orders a few feet away.

"All right," Swope said eventually. "See if you can find some poster board upstairs in that office, a Magic Marker. Make a sign—closed until further notice. Then lock up. I don't want anyone in here until I decide what to do."

The guard nodded with what he must have thought to be sober professionalism. Swope took one last look around the lobby, then strode through the cracked front door. All evidence of trouble disappeared the moment he left the silo. The covered walkway leading to Fogwood Village Center was perfectly placid. Muzak wafted sourcelessly through the trellised clematis and potted rubber plants. Citizens hustled past, searching out morning papers. Most nodded bright hellos, a few spoke his name. It was impossible to imagine that this place was full of brawling kids just a few hours earlier.

Swope walked back to his Town Car, parked in the fire zone at the curb. He shook a Tiparillo from the pack and fired it up, savoring that first mentholated drag as he leaned against the passenger door and stared at the converted silo. At least there was no sign of wreckage from out here. The broken windows were invisible in their deep-set wells, the cracked door masked by foliage. Not that he worried all that much about the physical damage. Company builders could have the place as good as new by the weekend. It was the damage this could do to all those unsold lots that worried him.

When the call came at six that morning he'd first assumed it had been no big deal. After all, security would have phoned right away if it was serious. Or so he thought. It turned out the night duty man was new and didn't understand procedure. That was the problem with this place—everybody was so damned new. Swope wasn't contacted until the day supervisor arrived. The fight had in fact been a doozy, with a half dozen county prowlers responding. Five young men, all black, had been picked up on public disorder charges.

It wasn't until he'd hung up that Swope remembered his son had been at the silo. Terrified that something had happened to his beloved boy, he'd raced across the house to Teddy's room. But he'd been fast asleep, his concave chest rising and falling peacefully. His face had been unmarked, the clothes piled next to his bed free from bloodstains. Swope had considered waking him to get a report, though he knew it would take a half hour to get a coherent sentence out of him. Instead, he'd instructed a groggy Sally to have him report to the office as soon as he woke.

Swope took another drag from his Tiparillo, letting his eyes wander to the village center's sawtooth roof. He cursed himself for not being more aggressive in warning Chicago about this. A memo asking if he could hire an off-duty deputy to sit at the silo's door simply hadn't cut the mustard. He should have painted them a picture. Let them know how overstretched the county cops were. But he hadn't, and so the answer had been no. Cops at doors were not part of Barnaby's master plan. The city was supposed to supply its own order, all that greenery and light washing away any anarchic impulses its recently transplanted citizenry might bring with them from the world outside. How many times had Barnaby lectured him on this very subject back in the days when Newton was nothing more than a stack of diagrams? Explaining how the abundance of public space and the equitable mix of housing would nullify the sort of invidious resentments and social alienation that led to crime. The Cannon County sheriff's department would be more than adequate to look after the occasional heart attack or domestic squabble. Vine was sure of it, as sure as he was that the traffic would flow and the pipes would carry water. And yet here they were, with five kids in jail and a couple thousand dollars worth of property damage, plus a shitstorm of bad press darkening the horizon. The suburban stringers from the Baltimore Sun and News American would be all over this, having become avid students of the Cannon County police blotter ever since last month's seemingly endless article in The Washington Post, "Will Race Woes Defeat New City Dream?" which cataloged in absurdly apocalyptic tones the recent confrontations between gangs of black and white youths. The scribblers would have a field day now that there had been actual arrests. The teen center, after all, was one of Vine's pet projects. Trouble there was not on the menu. In Barnaby's vision it was supposed to "harmonize and homogenize" the kids, to serve as a place where proximity created peace. Tribal allegiances were to be a thing of the past. The notion of black boys and white boys going at one another with pool cues was definitely not part of the blueprint.

"Mr. Swope?"

A young woman pushing a stroller stood a few feet off. Swope recognized her from the monthly homeowner meetings, though he couldn't come up with a name. She had a freckled nose and bobbed blond hair. Her bib overalls were immaculately clean. The thin strand of saliva dangling from her slumbering child's mouth caught the morning sun like a dewy web.

"Um, what's going on?" she asked, nodding at the silo. "Somebody said there was a riot?"

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Sort by: Showing 1 – 9 of 10 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 23, 2013


    I dont feel so good.. goes to doc at result 37

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 22, 2013


    Hi gina.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 21, 2013

    To sable

    Can result twenty four be mine. Pleeeeeease.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 21, 2013


    Hi may i buy a house

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 23, 2013


    Hello? ~

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 21, 2013


    Can i buy a house

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 22, 2013


    Where arue

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 21, 2013


    I think result 17 is mine. Just to tell u guys. *she walks back out*

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 23, 2013


    Everyone- find a unused home.

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