• Tropical Storm Irene setting for mystery novel
    By
     | October 01,2013
     
    AP PHOTO

    Archer Mayor looks over fallen gravestones from Tropical Storm Irene in Woodlawn Cemetery in Rochester. Two years after Tropical Storm Irene, one of the state’s top home-grown mystery writers, Mayor, is using the storm as the backdrop for his latest book.

    MONTPELIER — Two years after Tropical Storm Irene inundated Vermont, Newfane mystery writer Archer Mayor is using the chaos and destruction of the storm as the setting for his latest book, “Three Can Keep a Secret,” apparently the first piece of fiction to chronicle the storm and how Vermonters reacted to it.

    Mayor said his goal is to chronicle how Vermont and Vermonters deal with the modern world.

    “It’s one of the biggest events to have occurred in this state in quite a while. We still refer to the floods of the ’20s and ’30s as being monumental even though most of us weren’t alive,” Mayor said. “We are going to be referring to Irene many, many decades from now.”

    In the book, Mayor describes how Irene flooded the state, sending cars into torrents or how the floodwaters flushed into the open decades-old, previously unknown mysteries.

    The main mystery takes its cue from to real-life closure of the Vermont State Hospital in Waterbury during the flooding. In the book, a wrongly hospitalized patient escapes. Mayor’s main character, an investigator, works to learn what happened to her. The book also explores what happens after a single grave in a cemetery washes out and a casket is broken open, revealing rocks rather than human remains.

    Fiction helps artists make sense of events, said University of Vermont professor and author Philip Baruth, who is also a state senator.

    “That was a traumatic event and society as a whole does what individual artists do — they use stories, they use fiction,” Baruth said.

    There’s a fine line between turning human experiences into fiction and taking advantage of human suffering for art, Baruth said.

    Mayor said he works hard to separate fictionalization of reality from actual cases. He makes clear in the book his fictional cemetery is not in Rochester, where about 50 graves washed into the White River.

    “I wanted to, in effect, pay homage to the disaster that hit Rochester,” Mayor said.

    State Rep. Anne Donahue, R-Northfield, a longtime advocate for the mentally ill, said she objected to the premise that someone could have been wrongly hospitalized at the state hospital for decades.

    “Having no other symptoms that an independent psychiatrist wouldn’t recognize is playing to a kind of public assumption that just doesn’t exist anymore,” Donahue said.

    Mayor said he wasn’t indicting Vermont’s mental health system. His premise was a specialized circumstance.

    “I’ll guarantee you in every single book I’ve ever written there have been people who objected to it,” he said. “It is not, as I see it, the job of the writer of fiction to be held responsible for every single individual’s advocacy. You simply can’t do it.”

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