The Wisest Man In America

Overview

It's 1996 and Ferris, a native New Englander as flinty and proud as the mountains around him, is once again about to predict the winners of the New Hampshire primary. He's been right in every election since 1952, when fate and a nose for news first led Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Max Thomas to his door. It wasn't long before Ferris's uncanny accuracy began drawing the great and the not-so-great to the Notch to sound out -- and perhaps influence -- the crusty bellwether of political success or failure. This ...
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Overview

It's 1996 and Ferris, a native New Englander as flinty and proud as the mountains around him, is once again about to predict the winners of the New Hampshire primary. He's been right in every election since 1952, when fate and a nose for news first led Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Max Thomas to his door. It wasn't long before Ferris's uncanny accuracy began drawing the great and the not-so-great to the Notch to sound out -- and perhaps influence -- the crusty bellwether of political success or failure. This election, however, is different, as both Ferris and Max face the hardest test of their wisdom: confronting the truth about themselves, their lives and loves, and a society that has declined painfully during their half century of friendship.

W. D. Wetherell, author of the critically acclaimed Chekhov's Sister, creates a bittersweet retrospective that is at once profoundly meditative on the intricacies of human relationships and full of sharp insight into the diminishment of the American national character. Ferris senses "a sickness" afflicting America's youth. Max, at the end of a career of writing about wars, the empty wisdom of leaders, and the decay of nations, laments of his own country, "The world's been in a race toward total confusion, and we've gotten there first."

Yet both men come to reject those bleak pronouncements, as each mines meaning from his past and avoids "he worst of all fates: a life that for good or evil had left no impression at all." Wetherell's elegiac story of loss and redemption is a study in the universal struggle to identify what values are lasting amidst the sometimes deafening tumult of change.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Wetherell finds in the remote mountains and isolated farmhouses of northern New Hampshire something that can develop strength and understanding, that allows time and distance enough from the events and business of the world to enable a man to learn wisdom . . . The novel is constructed skillfully . . . full of eloquence, grudging honesty, and as much forgiveness as that hardscrabble country allows." —Boston Book Review
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Two characters share the title role of this understated, resonantly thoughtful novel: Ferris, a New Hampshire lumberjack who has successfully predicted the winners of 11 straight presidential primaries, and Max, the newspaper columnist who discovered Ferris and made them both famous. Now, 42 years after the birth of their unusual friendship, the two appraise, through the lenses of their lives, the events of the 20th century, both large and small. Weighing on both men's minds, meanwhile, are their respective wives' deaths, which have, in both cases, loosed some unpleasant secrets, most notably Ferris's infidelity and his shooting of a man years earlier. Throughout, Wetherell (Chekhov's Sister) shifts points of view between his two protagonists. The sections concerning Max, told in the third person, are more distant, less realized than the first-person chapters about Ferris, a heartfelt individual who searches for wisdom in small things. In his column, Max writes, ``As Ferris goes, so goes the nation''; in this affecting novel, the connection between an ornery, struggling man and his country comes vividly to life. (Mar.)
Library Journal
In alternating chapters, two aging widowers reflect on their shared past and their perhaps undeserved reputations. Ferris, a rural New Englander never out of sight of the White Mountains, and Max, a famed political journalist, are unlikely friends connected for decades by circumstances. Max's columns have made a national celebrity of Ferris, the man who never misses predicting the New Hampshire primaries correctly. Ferris is further indebted to Max for introducing him to the love of his life, Max's conservationist wife Anya. Their brief but heated affair torments Ferris decades later, with guilt almost as strong as that he carries for his role in a bizarre killing at a World War II POW camp. Anya preoccupies Max, too, as he recalls the failures of their relationship and ponders the meaning of shocking evidence about Anya's scientific research. Always among the memories is the rage of Lydia, Ferris's proud, bitter spouse. In less skilled hands, all this could amount to trite melodrama, but Wetherell (Chekhov's Sister, LJ 2/15/90) crafts spare, haunting prose to memorable effect. Recommended.-Starr E. Smith, Marymount Univ. Lib., Arlington, Va.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780874517613
  • Publisher: University Press of New England
  • Publication date: 1/1/1996
  • Series: Hardscrabble Books-Fiction of New England
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.55 (d)

Meet the Author

W. D. Wetherell's other books include Wherever That Great Heart May Be (1996), The Smithsonian Guide to the Natural Places of Northern New England (1994), Upland Stream (1991), Hyannis Boat and Other Stories (1989), and The Man Who Loved Levittown (1985). He has won two NEA Fellowships, the Drue Heinz Literature Prize, the National Magazine Award, and other honors. His novel Chekhov's Sister was selected as one of the Notable Books of 1990 by the New York Times.
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