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‘Finding Griffin’

August 1, 2012
By RICH FROST - Special to the Adirondack Daily Enterprise

The title of "Finding Griffin," a first novel by Barbara Delaney, refers to a onetime tanning and lumbering town in the southern Adirondacks. Ironically, my inability to "find Griffin" is one deficiency in this otherwise very pleasant summer read.

Anna Novelli and her visiting granddaughter Emma are whiling away an afternoon in the grandmother's Albany attic. In the process of sorting odds and ends, they happen upon a box of letters written in the 1870s. The missives were sent to an Albany woman named Tess by someone named Luke, a suitor from an unfamiliar mountain community named Griffin. Neither sender nor recipient is readily identifiable. Curiosity leads Anna and Emma into an effort to find the real people behind the yellowing pages.

Maps reveal the location of Griffin, and the pair head out onto back roads a few times to see what they can find. Anna and Emma discover on their explorations that there's not much left of Griffin today beyond random foundations, rusting tools, and some pretty waterfalls. Old-fashioned sleuthing and state-of-the-art computer searches provide enough leads to keep the protagonists - and the story - going. On-line genealogy programs and helpful librarians (and that's a group that never gets the credit it deserves) help narrow down the likely identities of the correspondents.

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Along the way we learn about Anna's course from an idyllic life working with her husband in Italian vineyards, to his illness and the decision to return to America, to ownership of a prospering flower shop in the state capital. Social pressures on today's teenagers enter the story. So does psychological fallout from the Vietnam War. We watch as new romance burgeons, then cringe as the specter of child pornography raises its ugly head.

Shifts back and forth in time occasionally seem forced. However, the quaint courtship rituals of the late 1800s are appealing, plus political controversies of the time prove interesting. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony make brief appearances as the debate on women's right to vote comes to the fore. There's mention of Shaker villages (both past ones like Hancock, and present-day Sabbath Day Lake in Maine). A fledgling 19th century organization called the National Rifle Association gets a quick mention.

Unfortunately, Victorian-era Albany comes to life with more vibrance than does century-ago Griffin. I'd have enjoyed more evocation of the village when it was a bustling settlement; this would have filled some notable gaps in my knowledge of Adirondack history. Delaney has co-authored two very good books of historically based hikes and walks in upstate New York, so I suspect she shares my interest.

Despite an occasional penchant for excess description, the author generally keeps the story flowing as smoothly as the water coursing the gentler rivers and streams of the Adirondacks. The main characters are believable and engaging. I enjoyed spending some time in their presence. And the author has inspired me to some follow-up effort. My summertime to-do list now includes a trip to the Griffin area myself, to see what remnants I might find to help fill out the story in my own mind.

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This review reflects the individual view of the reviewer, not the views of the Adirondack Center for Writing or the Enterprise.

 
 

 

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