Of This New World offers a menagerie of utopias: real, imagined, and lost. Starting with the Garden of Eden and ending in a Mars colony, the stories wrestle with conflicts of idealism and practicality, communal ambition and individual kink. Stories jump between genresfrom historical fiction to science fiction, realism to fabulismbut all ask that fundamental human question: is paradise really so impossible?
Over the course of twelve stories, Hyde writes with a mix of lyricism, humor, and masterful detail. A group of environmental missionaries seeks to start an ideal eco-society on an island in The Bahamas, only to unwittingly tyrannize the local inhabitants. The neglected daughter of a floundering hippie commune must adjust to conventional life with her un-groovy grandmother. Haunted by her years at a collegiate idyll, a young woman eulogizes a friendship. After indenturing his only son to the Shakers, an antebellum vegan turns to Louisa May Alcott’s famous family for help. And in the final story, a former drug addict chases a second chance at life in a government-sponsored space population program. An unmissable debut, the collection charts the worlds born in our dreams and bred in hope.
About the Author
Allegra Hyde’s stories have appeared in the Missouri Review, New England Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, the Gettysburg Review, and the Pushcart Prize XL: Best of the Small Presses. She lives in Peterborough, New Hampshire.
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Of This New World
By Allegra Hyde
University of Iowa PressCopyright © 2016 Allegra Hyde
All rights reserved.
After the Beginning
After the beginning, even seven days out, my husband still made me crazy.
We had been given a pile of sheepskins upon our expulsion — that was all. That and the promise of eternal suffering.
My husband seemed unable to get over this.
Seven days out, and by midmorning he still lay sprawled across the fleecy blankets lining our lean-to. I had built the lean-to; I had set pine boughs against a low branch to suggest some semblance of separation between the wilderness and us. A weak defense against new dangers (Yes, I still remember when there was only one danger), but a defense nonetheless.
By noon, though, the pine-boughs could not keep out the sun. Light jabbed between branches, waking my husband. He groaned and stretched his legs. His thigh muscles quivered.
"Put something on," I hissed, adjusting my own leafy apron.
He tugged a sheepskin across his lap and looked away, still unwilling to speak to me (Yes, I remember disregarding that first danger).
Even so, I told him I'd found a place to cultivate some food. I told him that without his labor we would never survive. I told him that he had to — he needed to — get up.
He still said nothing.
I decided to be good then: to feel shame and be bent by it.
My daydreaming made this difficult. I could not gather reeds or collect firewood or mend the lean-to without drifting into other places: to that lush ambrosial garden, the once warm cavern of my husband's embrace. All morning I swatted flies and images. To concentrate, I clutched tight to my guilt. I gave myself more chores. And yet, even as I wove reeds in the lacy shade of apple trees (They were everywhere, those trees, growing wild and wormy like unfunny jokes), I could not resist looking across the field to where my husband stood, head bowed. Lost in his thoughts.
"Gardens don't grow on their own," I called. A reminder, I suppose, that neither of us needed.
My husband stabbed a stick at the soil, ignoring me.
I gave up on weaving reeds and went back to fetching firewood.
All day my husband tilled the soil, sulkily. By late afternoon, his skin had turned red and raw from the sun. His flesh was glossed with sweat.
"At your rate," I said, "maybe we'll have something to eat in three years."
"Graah!" he yelled at last, throwing the stick down and striding into the forest.
Even as he disappeared, even as my own fingers bled from dryness and blisters, I dreamed. I thought about the intersection of our bodies, of shadows blooming in the sticky convergence of hip to hip.
My husband returned at nightfall, bruised, bee-stung, covered in mud. Empty-handed.
I wanted to laugh at the mess, the way we used to giggle at everything. There was a time when a bee sting would have been hilarious, even beautiful.
My husband slunk into the lean-to and curled up among sheepskins, silent.
There were only apples to eat. We had been eating them raw for seven days. This must have been part of our punishment: to find ourselves nauseous from the sweet flesh, to start hating the snap of teeth through skin, the bite once wrongly desired. But there was nothing else to eat, so that night I mashed the fruit together and placed it on a flat rock near the fire.
"We should name this," I said, presenting the warm mush to my husband. Words, in those days, could still be plucked from the air. "How about ..." I paused, awaiting the mouth-tingle of a new sound, "... how about 'pie'?"
He smiled — an expression I had not seen in days — and chewed slowly.
This was the first thing we had named since our expulsion.
I watched my husband, his face illuminated by our bonfire, his eyes tracing the arc of my collarbone, the curve of my breasts. The nakedness he'd only recently learned to see.
I will be good. I will feel shame and be bent by it.
That night we lay together on the pile of sheepskins, alone in a forest of shrieks and howls. I listened to the creatures outside — clawed and toothed — among which I'd once roamed freely. There were so many dangers now. So many clefts and cracks in the walls of our lean-to. So little we could do.
That night, our limbs entwined, my husband breathed softly, deeply.
And me: I dreamt of fields of grain and wicker baskets and paradise.CHAPTER 2
There was a storm, a shipwreck. There were Puritans looking for a place to pray. A reef — serrated and rising from the sea — named the Devil's Backbone by those who out-swam the drowning tug of hosiery and buckled boots, the swift darkness in a throatful of brine, who felt the soft footing of a sandy shore.
The island they named Eleuthera, a Greek word for freedom.
Then there was a cave like a yawning mouth: a home, high-ceilinged, acoustics of the finest church. A rocky pulpit — too perfect for coincidence — a sign to the Eleutherans. A gift from God. The island knelt before them, a blank surface of sea and sky, waiting to be given a past and a future.
This is that future: the locals call the island "Lutra," as if sun and salt could erode letters too. They fish from docks staggering rotten-legged into the sea, their bodies black against the horizon, like human hieroglyphics. And yet — how hard it is to read the meaning in their poses. To separate defiance from defeat. These children of children of children of slaves, shackled and shipped to an island named Freedom.
The locals, they speak too quick to understand sometimes, their voices like chiming bells. "Dats da ting," they tell me, dark arms lifting slack fishing lines. "Groupa gettin smalla an smalla."
Before long, the Eleutherans feared they'd failed their maker. The rye they'd planted hadn't come. Their few spades cracked and split. They sweated, starved, dug graves for their companions. Gripped scripture with cracked and bleeding hands.
AFFLICTION IS A BITTER ROOT, BUT IT BEARS THE SWEETEST FRUIT.
"Got 'em," says Nehemiah, reeling in a dripping fish, scales silver. He knifes the belly open, shows me a final rubied pulse. He looks relieved. Remorseful. "Only da old men do da dirty work now," he says, tossing fish guts off the dock. "Da kids, dey all gone."
The sun hangs low, hammocked by the afternoon.
The sea swallows a little more of the coast.
BUT IT BEARS THE SWEETEST FRUIT
The Eleutherans begged for help from northern churches, praised God when it arrived — bundled and blessed — on a charitably chartered vessel. They unpacked crates of sugar and salted pork; axes, hoes, and saws; they unpacked munitions and pewter spoons; beeswax candles, starched white linens, and silver sewing needles; they unpacked the makings, or so it seemed, of a bold new civilization.
To proffer thanks? The Eleutherans shipped ten tons of Braziletto timber back to Boston. The wood became precious anywhere but on the island. Red-grained, it was good for fabric dyes and violin bows. Its sale endowed Harvard University.
I am at the same university, hundreds of years later, in a room engorged with students. I am here to speak of Eleuthera — an island fragment in the spill of the Bahamas — to speak of Camp Hope, our work there, a new era of environmental innovation.
I have become like Braziletto: valuable elsewhere.
The students shift in their seats. Stare with cautious piety.
I shift too, hands braced against the podium, waiting for my words to settle into order, the ones that have ballooned and thickened, made me a new kind of evangelist.
"Thank you, I —"
But my words, I feel them crowded out.
The Eleutherans. They wander through my mind as if they'd colonized that too.
Things disappeared on the island. The Eleutherans never met the Lucayans, a boatbuilding people who walked its beaches before them, who canoed between coves, gold-cheeked and sable-haired. Who disappeared, some years earlier, when the Spanish dropped anchor and enslaved them all.
The Lucayans: the goldest thing Cristóbal Colón could find.
The Eleutherans roamed all over their new home, discovering mounds of picked-out mussel shells, shards of palmetto ware. They found Lucayan axe heads, arrowheads, skulls — eye sockets spilling sand — in the place they'd come to call Preacher's Cave.
The Eleutherans discarded these scraps of the past.
Seated in front of my podium, a bone-pale girl peers into me as if through water.
You're imagining it.
Down, down, down through all the strata of civilization.
You're just nervous.
I've made this speech dozens of times — variations on an environmental homily, an ode to conservation — I've spoken without pause or hitch, without grasping for words, but now time dilates, my head throbs with the longings of ghosts.
Inside the airplane, inside the sky, window ovals opening into aqua marine — an ocean spread blank and blissful below — except for a few dark patches you realize later are the shadows of clouds. The plane hovers there too: toy-sized and skimming the surface. And then, closer to land, sandbars swoop up white and dreamy, like spilt milk. There, Eleuthera. That skinny spit. That fishhook bathing. The toy plane glides over pink-pebbled beaches and acres of palm trees, above the square stamp of rooftops and swimming pools resigned to a viridescent shimmer. It dips to pineapple fields, bent and overgrown, to backhoes abandoned midpush in the dense coppice that jostles cinder-block settlements, right up to the tiny airport in Rock Sound — the only one left after Pan Am disappeared — and it feels as though you might disappear as well.
I wound up at Camp Hope by luck.
In those days I didn't bother with distinctions: one minute I was in a single-bulb basement in Brooklyn, printing pamphlets on Climate Justice in an Age of Corporate Tyranny. The next, I was stepping onto the parched tarmac of the Eleutheran airport, about to work for a man I'd never met, wishing I still felt the reckless confidence I'd flaunted to friends back home.
Waiting on the tarmac: Mr. Roy Adams. My new boss and Camp Hope's founder, he was also — according to the rumors on the activist circuit — a former Navy SEAL turned born-again tree hugger, baptized in the warm waters of the Caribbean.
He wore aviators, a crew cut, and steel-toed boots.
Not my usual company. Not by a long shot.
"Let's go." Adams grabbed my duffel bag and chucked it into the back of a bug-smeared Jeep. Then he swung himself into the driver's side.
For a moment I considered refusing: catching the next plane back to New York. How could I work for a man who didn't even bother shaking hands? Having spent the last decade volunteering for Fieldcore — a loose collective of urban eco-activists, occasionally anarchic, always up in arms — I was used to group-think sessions that began with hugs and ended in drum circles, not two-syllable commands.
"Dawn?" said Adams. He was watching me through the Jeep's windshield, his posture relaxed, his gaze steady, as if I were an animal he'd already corralled.
I wanted out of that gaze, out of the sun's dizzying heat, and yet I thought of the offer Adams had made on the phone four weeks earlier. "Dawn," he'd said, "your work on that BP protest — impressive stuff — but don't you ever think of taking things further? Living the solution?"
Living the solution. Sure I'd imagined it — we all did at Fieldcore — we'd talk about getting a "chunk of land," starting an "eco-centered society," proving one could exist beyond the American SOP of morning commutes and disposable Starbucks cups.
But the talk had always stayed abstract. A hash-fumed fantasy.
That is, until Adams called and offered me a job.
"Camp Hope," he'd said, "will be part school, part eco–base camp. We're aiming to be a hundred percent self-sufficient within two years, with wind turbines, aquaculture, the whole deal. And we've already got a roster of students — or more specifically, their tuition — now we just need teachers. People who believe in sustainability. People like you."
People like you. Who was I except someone who'd always been willing to dream?
"Hot here," I said, sliding into the Jeep's passenger side. The vinyl seat burned the backs of my thighs, but I bit back a yelp, adding, "Barely fifty when I left New York."
Adams grunted, then rummaged in his pockets for keys.
It occurred to me, then, that he might have his own reservations. On the phone he'd said that I came "highly recommended," but he'd also repeated the need for "full-on commitment." That he needed "doers, not just dreamers. No wishy-washy hippie stuff." Apparently several recruits for his eco–dream team had already dropped out.
With my rumpled T-shirt and matted hair, I could hardly look inspiring.
Perhaps my ex-girlfriend — a lipsticked NYU professor with a penchant for "soft bohemian women" — had been right to smirk as she watched me pack. Perhaps she'd been right to remind me, in her creamy voice, that I'd never held a real job for more than a month.
I felt nauseated. Heat shimmered off the tarmac, blearing the tangle of trees and blossoms beyond. Adams revved the Jeep's engine. Unexpectedly, I smelled French fries.
"That biodiesel?" I asked, out of habit.
Adams turned to me, sunshine gilding his aviators so that for a moment he appeared both blinding and holy. Then he answered, "They said you were good," and stomped the accelerator, sending us careening toward Camp Hope.
So full of conviction, the Eleutherans had sold nearly everything before leaving England. Then they packed their remaining possessions — a few embroidered linens, the family's Geneva Bible — and sailed blind across an ocean as vast as an idea.
To Every Shareholder: liberty of conscience
To Every Shareholder: liberty of worship
To Every Shareholder: three hundred acres of land
My first eyeful of Camp Hope felt like a fever dream, a sight so gorgeous it hurt. Strung along a beach stood dormitories and classrooms, a dining hall and library — low breezy buildings, all freshly whitewashed — and beside them garden plots already flush with melon leaves, carrot tops, pole beans. Solar panels bowed to the sun. Wind turbines pirouetted in the breeze.
A citadel to sustainability.
"You weren't kidding," I breathed, standing beside Adams. "This is something."
Adams thrust his hands into his pockets, like an oversized boy trying to be modest. "It's getting there," he said, then paused. Nearby, several builders sat in the shade of leafy bananas.
"Are they local —?"
Adams ignored me, instead calling to the men, "Finished already?" as they scrambled upright. "Don't strain yourself, Dwain." Adams strode in among them, thumping the sweaty back of the slowest. "I'm in the market for more shark bait."
Dwain — or the man who'd been called Dwain — stiffened.
Adams released a gunshot laugh. "I'm just messing with you," he said, grinning until the others grinned with him.
Again I felt a wave of doubt, but there was little time to dwell. Adams had me meet the other faculty: in addition to a small platoon of biologists, he had recruited a trio of women fresh from liberal arts colleges, who looked competent and overeducated, and who — upon noting my cropped hair and cargo shorts — promptly informed me that they "loved Judith Butler." Then there was a gangly ex-Mormon named Charlie, who knew trigonometry and CPR. A busty scuba instructor named Jacquelle. Two silent Norwegian cooks, who vanished as soon as they were introduced. And me, presented as "a veteran environmental activist," a title that made me blush.
I didn't argue with it, though.
"In six days our students arrive," said Adams, as we gathered under palm trees for our inaugural faculty meeting. "Camp Hope, though, should be more than a school. Think of this place as our headquarters. The nerve center of an eco-revolution — not just here — everywhere. If we can end overfishing on Eleuthera, end the island's dependence on fossil fuels, the coastal-rape of mega resorts, we can be a model for the world to change."
Excerpted from Of This New World by Allegra Hyde. Copyright © 2016 Allegra Hyde. Excerpted by permission of University of Iowa Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsAfter the Beginning,
VFW Post 1492,
The Future Consequences of Present Actions,
Flowers for Prisoners,
Americans on Mars!,