First-novelist Brewer chronicles the real-life journey of Henry Stuart, who,
in 1925 at the age of 67, is diagnosed with consumption and told he only has
a year to live. Henry decides to leave his home in Idaho and bid his two
grown sons and best friend good-bye before his decline begins. Henry chooses
a small plot of land in Fairhope, Alabama, as his final residence, and he
corresponds with a man named Peter Stedman in order to get the supplies to
build a house. ... Fans of quiet, philosophical novels will find
much to enjoy in Henry's musings and revelations.
A dying man's decision to move from Idaho to Alabama becomes a quixotic spiritual journey in Brewer's ruminative, idiosyncratic first novel, based on a true story. In 1925, widowed Henry Stuart learns that he has tuberculosis and will probably be dead within a year. Stuart's initial reaction is optimistic resignation, as he regards his illness as a final philosophical journey of reconciliation, one that sends him back through the writings of his beloved Tolstoy and other literary and spiritual figures to find solace and comfort. Despite the protests of his two sons and his best friend, he decides to move to the progressive town of Fairhope, Ala. There, he begins to build a round, domed cottage where he seeks to "learn in solitude how to save myself" and earns himself the sobriquet "the poet of Tolstoy Park." The plot, such as it is, runs out of steam when Brewer makes an ill-advised decision to jump forward in time in the last chapters, but the heady blend of literary and philosophical references and some fine character writing make this a noteworthy debut. Agent, Amy Rennert. (Mar.) Forecast: Book world support for Brewer-who owns Over the Transom Bookshop in Fairhope, Ala., and is the editor of the annual anthology of Southern writing, Stories from the Blue Moon Caf -will be strong, as evidenced by blurbs from Pat Conroy, Robert Morgan, Rick Bragg and Winston Groom. Six-city author tour. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
In 1925, when 67-year-old Henry Stuart is given a year to live, the path he must follow is immediately clear. Stuart leaves his Idaho home and moves to a ten-acre patch of isolated paradise in Fairhope, AL, which was founded by freethinker Henry George-who shared Stuart's love of Tolstoy. Stuart's decision shocks his sons and his lifelong friend, Preacher Will Webb, but his drive to live out the remainder of his life in simplicity and solitude is irresistible. Once he lands in Fairhope, Stuart's all-consuming project is to build a round shelter of cement and eat only food that he grows himself. First novelist Brewer brings honor to this real-life, little-known eccentric, from whom we could learn a great deal. Balancing the friendly curiosity of Stuart's neighbors against Stuart's desperate need for privacy and self-reliance, Brewer offers a gloriously imagined vision of one resourceful life. It will not escape those who fall in love with this beautiful novel that Stuart's cement beehive stands today in its original location, which is now a parking lot. A powerful prayer to a less complicated way of being in the world, this book is highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 11/1/04.]-Beth E. Andersen, Ann Arbor District Lib., MI Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
How do you prepare for death? With bare feet and a head full of precepts, if you're the protagonist of Brewer's didactic first outing. After learning he's terminally ill with tuberculosis, the first thing Henry Stuart does is discard his boots. His sudden contact with the earth is restorative. And the 67-year-old retired professor will make many more changes to his life in Nampa, Idaho (the year is 1925). Strongly influenced by Tolstoy, he'll give up his house and land to his two sons. He'll move to Fairhope, Alabama, a "reform community" opposed to rampant capitalism. There, on cliffs above Mobile Bay, he will build a round hut out of concrete (Stuart did exist, and the hut still does; Fairhope is Brewer's hometown), following a vision that comes to him in a dream about a bird's nest and Black Elk. Henry's ideas are a synthesis of Tolstoy, Thoreau, and the Oglala Sioux medicine man. He's convinced he can overcome fear of death by moving from a material to a spiritual plane, while the challenge of manual work, done by himself alone, will be "soul-perfecting." In fact, he's a set of quirks and ideals who stops just short of being a fully realized fictional character. His moral evolution is the thing, and so his family relationships go unexplored. Does he even like the sons he left behind? To his kindly Alabama neighbors, he sometimes seems just crabby. Brewer's account of the hut construction is plodding (Masonry 101), but he does enliven his austere tale with two hurricanes and a near-fatal moccasin attack. Then, in the midst of the second hurricane, Henry has a road-to-Damascus epiphany: He will not die anytime soon, but must reach out to others. More pleasures here from the novel'smoral clarity than from those traditional sources, plot and character. Author tour. Agent: Amy Rennert/Amy Rennert Agency
Advance praise for The Poet of Tolstoy Park
"...the heady blend of literary and philosophical references and some fine character writing make this a noteworthy debut."
“The Poet of Tolstoy Park is one of those unique and wonderful books that sings a hymn of praise to the philosophical and spiritual part of daily life.”
–Pat Conroy, author of My Losing Season
“Sonny Brewer writes the way people think and talk, if, of course, those people are poets. The language in this novel is lovely where it needs to be and gristle-tough where it is called for. . . . I loved this book because I love to read, and because I love to write, and I envy the skill in this as much as I loved the story that the writer’s skill embraces.”
–RICK BRAGG, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of All Over but the Shoutin’
“Without literary pretense and in good back porch storytelling fashion, Sonny Brewer stands his characters up and turns them around so you know them front and back.”
–WINSTON GROOM, author of Forrest Gump
“An intoxicating and loving tribute to an extraordinary man, Henry James Stuart, whose life story is one of the most fascinating adventures I have ever read. . . . Written in language both lush and luminous, Sonny Brewer’s debut novel is sustenance for both the mind and the soul. I believe that this novel is destined to become a literary treasure, and Brewer is destined to become a major voice in American literature.”
–BEV MARSHALL, author of Walking Through Shadows and Right as Rain
“A celebration of essential simplicity and the dignity of work. Sonny Brewer has given us a story of exploration and discovery, of the wisdom of plainness, of living in touch with each approaching and passing moment. You will not want to put it down.”
–ROBERT MORGAN, author of Gap Creek and This Rock
“With prose that mirrors the grace of his protagonist, Brewer seamlessly merges time and place with the interior landscape of the heart.”
–WILLIAM GAY, author of Provinces of Night
From the Hardcover edition.