Today I am going to talk about a new novel about Hudson, written by Hudson native Sam J. Miller.
Not much more than a dozen pages into The Blade Between, the protagonist, Ronan Szepessy, thinks to himself, “What the hell happened to Hudson?”
What the hell happened to Hudson, indeed. That could well be an alternative title for Miller’s terrific new novel. Substitute the name of any large town or small city in America for “Hudson” in that sentence, and much (but certainly not all) in Miller’s gripping story will ring true. The question remains, just who is besieging Hudson? “Hipster invaders”? Greedy developers? Fancy shop owners? Or perhaps the disturbed, tortured souls of the whales that were slaughtered and processed here about 250 years ago?
Or, is Ronan simply just having a pretty bad week? He is, after all, experiencing withdrawal symptoms, having sworn off crystal meth. He has, after all, just seen his father for the first time in two decades and found an old man drifting in and out of consciousness and delirium, knockin’ on heaven’s door. Plus, Ronan is back in Hudson, the town to which he forswore ever returning, having been traumatized as a teenager by his mother’s suicide and the relentless homophobic bullying and violence inflicted upon him by his hateful, bigoted peers.
So what the hell did happen to Hudson? Ronan knew all along about the changes that had transformed Hudson from a depressed, decaying, post-Rust Belt landscape into a revitalized river town where art galleries, antiques stores, restaurants, performance venues and chic boutiques have made it a destination for day-tripping visitors from the Big Apple. But he’d never seen it firsthand. Now, when he looks through the window into his father’s former butcher shop and sees the precious, expensive tchotchkes on sale, he literally gets ill. While on the one hand, Ronan had to get out of Hudson because there was no place for him there—not as a gay, creative, stylish, aspiring photographer—still, he is astounded by the displacement and destruction caused by the town’s transformation into a culinary, cultural and commercial playground for the rich.
Then again, Ronan’s father has been offered millions for the downtown building he’s owned for decades. The property is the final link in a proposed mixed-use development that will forever alter the character of Hudson’s downtown. Most of that money can and will devolve to Ronan, if he can convince his dead-set-against-it father to sell it to Jark Trowse—the gay Internet billionaire behind the development, who owns an Etsy-type online marketplace headquartered in Hudson and who is also running for mayor.
Which leaves Ronan in a tight spot emotionally and spiritually. He very much embodies both the old and the new in Hudson. Now a successful fashion photographer known for his edgy, risqué style, he certainly has more in common with the so-called “hipster invaders” than he does or ever did with his fellow Hudsonians. Yet his ties to his hometown and a few old friends are deep and abiding, and there is still much love there to explore.
What the hell happened to Hudson is that Ronan has returned, setting into motion an orgy of cataclysmic violence that will turn the city upside down. Ronan discovers a kinship with the whales upon which the city was founded. He literally feels the pain of “the blade between” their ribs. Hudson’s bloody history will come back to haunt it in ways no one could have ever imagined. And in the telling, Miller skillfully balances stark verisimilitude, parallel dimensions, and the paranormal.
The Blade Between hides a novel about gentrification inside a work of genre fiction. That it works as both, is Sam J. Miller’s great achievement. He truly is a hometown boy made good.
Seth Rogovoy is editor of the Rogovoy Report, available at rogovoyreport.com
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