Writer Dave Donohue, the force behind Ra Press and Ra Films, has provided support and a platform for local writers for many years. He has also mined his own Port Henry/Moriah memories, turning the experiences into memoirs and fiction.
Two of Donohue's recent efforts are especially effective in capturing small town life in and around Essex County.
The first, "The Golden Eagles: Adirondack Short Stories," is a collection of twelve stories ranging over many years. Reading the stories is a bit like browsing through an album of old photographs or postcards that not only spark memories but recall a whole atmosphere. They are sympathetic portraits of a time and place as well people, but not overly sentimental.
The title story describes young Steve Henry's dream of romancing beautiful Brenda Clark, a member of the Town of Moriah Drum and Bugle Corps, aka The Golden Eagles, in 1964. That Steve has no idea how to play the bugle or march in time is not going to stop him from impressing Brenda! The tale is a delightful, innocent memory of adolescent infatuation.
There is, however, no romantic infatuation in "North Hudson Road,"set in 1988. Because she flushed the weed he intended to sell down the toilet, Arlen Charbonneau slaps his girlfriend. When she hits him with a shovel, he mindlessly drives to a friend's house, who greets him with a shotgun and tells him to leave. Here Donohue has written a brief, compelling story of drug dealing, domestic violence, and a frozen death in the woods.
In "Frontier Town," a young food-service employee painfully learns that the "customer is always right," even when the customer is obnoxious.
Sr. Regina, in "Holy Orders," is getting ready to leave Port Henry and St. Patrick's school. She's getting a promotion to a larger school, but it's 1967 and the church is changing -?its language, its rituals, its apparel -?at the same time that Sr. Regina is leaving her comfortable niche in the small town. It's a delicate story about permanence and transition.
Donohue's second new book, "The Last Days of My Calling," also explores a Catholic's vocation and conscience, a priest in this case.
The first person narrative, call it a long short story or a "novella" as Donohue does, reminds one of other priest-novels where the main character struggles with his conscience, his priesthood, his God. From France in the 1930s there was George Bernanos's Diary of a Country Priest. English author Graham Greene gave us The Power and the Glory, and American Henry Morton Robinson wrote The Cardinal.
Donohue's priest is cut from the same cloth (pun intended) and entered a seminary that "would have been totally unbearable had it not been for my idealism I believed in God and I believed in the priesthood." By the time we meet him, however, his idealism is gone, priesthood is nearing its end, and the young priest is having a very energetic affair with Maggie.
While the plot is somewhat predictable, Donohue gives it good energy. The priest's dream sequences reveal, to the priest and the reader, the struggles that he cannot articulate to those around him. And symbolizing that struggle to find his place in the world, the priest fumbles with a Rubik's Cube while sitting in the confessional.
In both, "Golden Eagles" and "Last Days," Donohue creates distinct characters, often in brief snapshots, living in the Adirondacks and the Champlain Valley. Not all the people are good, but they're all good to read about.