Monday, June 28, 2010

Hudson in Literature

Dinitia Smith, The Illusionist (1997)
I was recently reminded of this novel, set in a fictionalized Hudson. In the book, Hudson is called Sparta, but there's no mistaking that it's our city--not the Hudson of today but Hudson of the mid-1990s. Readily recognizable details of Hudson and Columbia County are found throughout the book. This excerpt from The Illusionist introduces the setting.

Washington Street, where my apartment was, was the main street in Sparta. It was paved in cobblestone, lined with false-fronted buildings of red brick and frame. Like everything else in Sparta, the street sloped steeply down to the river. Indeed, sometimes it seemed as if the whole place was slowly sliding down into the river, and that one day the entire town would just disappear into the water. . . .

Over the years, the town fathers had tried periodically to revive the fortunes of the city. These days, Washington Street was mostly antique stores, run by gay people who'd moved up from New York City. The city government had gotten federal loans, put up fake gas lamps to attract tourists, but it seemed that every day another store closed. A group of weekenders, including a famous poet who lived on Courthouse Square, were trying to raise funds to restore the old Sparta Opera House, with its gargoyles representing comedy and tragedy above the entrance, which had been boarded up for years now, and turn it into a cultural center.

But today as you walked through the streets of Sparta, you saw mostly the outline of the beautiful old buildings within the abandoned structures that stood there now, buildings with elaborate moldings and pilasters, and stained glass windows and fine, thick front doors.

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