May-June 2011 | PAGE TURNER

Stephanie Fowler

BOOK SMART

PAGE TURNER

In her new book Crossings, Salisbury author Stephanie Fowler unearths some all-but-forgotten tales of our heritage

Written By: Nick Brandi | Photographer: Stephen Cherry

It’s encouraging to see one as young as Stephanie Fowler so blissfully steeped in her Eastern Shore roots. That’s the only motivation the Salisbury-bred author needed to write Crossings, an anthology of Eastern Shore-oriented tales that delve into the complex relationships that our natives have not only with each other but with the land and nature itself.

One such lurid tale involves rapist-murderer-chicken thief Arthur Collick, who managed to elude authorities for days despite what was likely the largest and most aggressive manhunt to that point in Worcester County history. It recounts the brutal murder of farmer Harvey Pilcher and the rape and attempted murder of his wife, Annie Pilcher, for no better reason than spite and revenge for Pilcher’s having reported Collick to police three years earlier for having stolen three of his chickens. It also tells the story of residual racism against blacks by the white townsfolk, who quickly formed a lynch mob and took after Collick with a fever pitch that wasn’t about to let the due process of law get in their way.

Somewhat spookier, however, is the story of Franklin City, an erstwhile town created by Judge John Rankin Franklin, an immensely gifted and bold man who seemed to get nearly everything he’d ever sought through the sheer force of his irrepressible personality. Fowler recounts the struggles of Franklin and his contemporaries as they attempted to tame the land and bend its will to their own. However, whenever man goes against nature in literature, you can pretty much guess with certainty how it’s going to turn out.

Fowler does a sincere and capable job sketching the changing times and tides of Eastern Shore history in the 297 pages of her six-story series. She seems to deeply love the place of her birth – jumping on every opportunity to anthropomorphize the area – and her wordplay is considerate and evocative. Part of that is due to Fowler’s embrace of a literary genre called “creative nonfiction,” which incorporates certain techniques and styles of prose in the telling of fact-based narratives, usually for the purposes of entertainment value. Though a relatively young genre, creative nonfiction has been used with great success by authors such as Norman Mailer, Gore Vidal, Tom Wolfe, Edmund Morris and John McPhee. It’s a fun way of telling (and writing, for that matter) a story but must be taken with a grain of literal salt, as it doesn’t observe strict adherence to the colorless exactitude of pure journalism; meaning, the author is virtually certain to take a trip inside the minds of at least some of her characters and share with us what they might have been thinking or feeling. This, Fowler qualifies for the reader at the outset in the form of an elaborate apology, which isn’t really necessary but still
represents an appropriate, even if overly penitent, explication for the reader.

If you’re looking for a brooding account of the intrinsic mystery and majesty of the Eastern Shore, told faithfully by one of its own, Stephanie Fowler’s Crossings is a terrific place to start.


  


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