What’s so ominous about the comment, “Martin’s Neck appeared to be a little different from any other town of its time”? The shadows deepen just a bit, though the place lies between comfortable and prosperous. Marc Steadman, the narrator of David Dutton’s novel, One of the Madding Crowd, introduces himself in 1957, at the age of ten. Marc lets us know, even before me meet his lifelong friends Tom Powell and Fredrika “Freddie” Clifton, that he is mad, though he routinely hides it as part of the charade their families have fixed upon their lives.
The half-century saga, its title an allusion to Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd, provide the richness in characters and setting I expected from a seasoned writer. Dutton, known along the Eastern Seaboard for tantalizing short stories, plots the tale deftly, taking the comrades, their classmates and their kin through the years. As a historian, I savored the manner in which the author ripened the characters, and indeed their snug Delaware town, each chapter keen in its particular time. And the madness, binding the decades with razor-edged ivy—well, that’s what flips the pages, sheets lit by a thunderstorm.