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Aux Pioneers

Aux Pioneers began its life as a serialized novel in Berkshire HomeStyle, a regional monthly magazine catering to the second-home market in Berkshire County, Massachusetts and neighboring Columbia County, New York. These two facts- the monthliness and the region- defined the story from the outset.

Berkshires, MassachusettsThe region is a treasure, filled with natural beauty, centuries of American history, and a summer cultural scene that is justifiably world-famous. But the region is also filled with all the types of people that bump up against each other in such a place, especially "second-homers" and "natives," the two camps that come together throughout Aux Pioneers. Tensions between vacationers and year-round people are always high, whether the locale is Cape Cod, Vermont, Key West or Montana. But this may be especially true in Western Massachusetts, where Wall Street meets the Shays Rebellion every summer. The two crowds come with different levels of education, taste, power and money, and their mutual dependence makes them even more fractious: the natives increasingly depend on tourism for their livelihoods, but hate having to cater to the tourists. The tourists want nothing more than to be welcomed, and sometimes feel resentful when they feel the resentment just under the welcoming smiles.

This is the theme of Aux Pioneers, but, since it first appeared in a publication geared to the second-home market, the themes had to be played for laughs. The satire when it is appears is almost always gentle, and the whole story centers upon, and always returns to, the immediate and deep friendship between one second-homer couple and their native next-door neighbors. It is a comedy of manners, but a comedy first and last. There are few workplaces; current events almost never intrude (with the exception of a few months in the early fall of 2001). Clayfield Meadows, the country estate where most of the action takes place, is inspired by Blandings Castle, P.G. Wodehouse's famous creation, where all the drama turns upon the procurement of an antique cow-creamer or the true identity of the designer of ladies' lingerie.

The monthliness of Aux Pioneers contributes to its unique form. It also contributed to its demise as a serial, since a month is too long to go between chapters of any story. To make it interesting, each little chapter (1000-1200 words) had to have its own little arc, and the little arcs contributed to larger, and sometimes overlapping story arcs as well. In the current completed version, there are four Parts, each of which contains a story arc, although some elements from Part I are fully explored in Part II but not resolved until Part III. The current, all-in-one-place version has also been edited to remove many of the dependent clauses that served as necessary memory aids to the monthly reader ("Mr. Ernest James, the proprietor of the Clayfield Market,..." and so on). The story stops but does not end; Part IV resolves Part IV but the characters live on, like those in residence at Blandings. Yes, there is room for a sequel or two.

The story's monthliness also made the chapters stick closely to the calendar: in a June issue, it was June in the story; in December, it was December. This makes for dramatic lines that unfold in a leisurely fashion, and sometimes (as in Sophocles) one hears only a second-hand account of an action that happened offstage. But in the country, the seasons and the landscapes are always major characters anyway: by sticking to the calendar, Aux Pioneers captures the spirit of life in the country, with its cornucopia of acts of God: snowstorms, mud season, lightning, wind, as well as runaway dogs, ponies, coyotes and mountain lions. That's why Jonathan and Bette Brown chose the Berkshires: when he says in Chapter 2, "There are no acts of God in the Hamptons," she replies, "I know. That's why we're here."

So, how to describe Aux Pioneers? In its form, it is most like Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City series (although much lighter in tone); in its aim, like all of Christopher Buckley's novels; in its spirit, it is (at least I sincerely hope it is) pure Wodehouse. In serious times, unserious fun might be just the thing: as Vivi Banden says in Chapter 16, "Don't you think we all need a little diversion nowadays?"

Aux Pioneers is currently seeking a publisher. It may be myself...who knows? But it will be in print, in full, one way or the other before too long.