Mrs. October Was Here
Fiction by Coleman Dowell
Readers of the New Directions anthologies will have some familiarity with the work of Coleman Dowell, three of whose remarkable short stories were published in ND26, 27, and 28. But with the publication of his second novel, Mrs. October Was Here, the vast range of his talents and imagination is strikingly underscored. The action of Dowell’s satirical American fantasy––like some of our dreams, both comic and frightening––takes place “out beyond the limits of the twentieth century,” in “an outpost called Tasmania, Ohio.” Lying “like an English pudding, rather heavily in its basin,” Tasmania is a seat of insularity, bigotry, and boredom harboring its portion of madness and peacefulness, fostered by familiarity. On this, the quintessential American town (“Oh, beautiful for specious skies / For ambient waves of pain. . ."), Mrs. Septimus October, a lady of vast wealth whose hobby is revolution, descends with her mysterious entourage to stage her great experiment-one aimed at ridding the world of hatred by focusing it on one single individual and destroying him. Her strange cadre of agents grows amid surprising, even sinister circumstances. Mrs. October’s bright and terrible revolution, however, takes a turn she had not anticipated, and the novel reveals itself as a ferocious, many-leveled fable.