It's time to be thankful. There are so many things for which I'm grateful. I have a fantastic husband, house, Church, dog, some phenomenal friends, a spirit of creativity...
And READERS! I'm so thankful for each and every one of you.
I'm also appreciative to the many guests who blog on my website, introducing their own work here in a creative, professional way. This week, a special thanks to M.B. Zucker for another fascinating look through his well-researched microscope of American History. Be sure to sample his newest novel by enjoying the excerpt below.
Be ye thankful, everyone. And READ ON!
The Middle Generation
by: M.B. Zucker
Thomas and I arrived after 11. We asked around and found Dyer’s shop. A dull and perverse circus complex, eliciting a fear of unpredictability. Some threats, say a monarch, destroy you for threatening their power, but that’s rational and less disturbing than a danger with which negotiating is meaningless and survival rests on whims.
Dorcas and her children sat in a small pen. She wept most piteously. I approached.
“Greetings, ma’am.” She wailed, her head dropped to her chest, her arms around her legs.
“How has he treated you?” No response or acknowledgement of my presence. I noticed a wound on her left wrist. Looked at her daughters, sitting along the wall, away from their mother—ages nine and seven—they watched me as though I intended them harm. “It’s all right, little ones. I won’t hurt you.” Dorcas’ screaming made it difficult to speak or think. “Ma’am, can you tell me—” I couldn’t complete the thought. “You’re going to be all right, ma’am. I—” The howl escalated and my focus dissipated. I watched the girls again and nodded, hoping to convey I was there to help. Their stares said that notion wasn’t an ingredient of the realm they inhabited.
I rejoined Thomas and we waited by the circus’ entrance. Dyer returned and our presence startled him.
“Edward Dyer?” I asked. He nodded. “I’m—”
“Mr. Adams. I’ve seen your portrait. What brings a Northerner to my auction?” We made ourselves heard over Dorcas’ crying. He looked at Thomas. “I’m sorry, I forgot to ask your name.”
“Thomas Hellen. I’m his brother-in-law.”
“A pleasure.” They shook hands. “I’m sorry, I can’t think over her noise.”
“Let’s step outside,” I said. They followed. “Is that better?”
Dyer nodded. “Where was—ah, yeah. Why’s a Northerner at my auction? You wanna purchase her?”
“Something like that.”
“Your reputation goes a different way.”
“Has anyone procured her?”
“Meaning I made a deal with a man for 475 dollars, but I doubt he’ll have it in time and so here we are.” He paused. “It’s her husband.”
“I didn’t know she was married.”
He laughed. “He works at Gadsby’s. Tryin’ to raise the money. I lost patience with him.”
“How is she married as a slave?”
“That’s where it gets tricky. Her owner married a War Department clerk named Davis and when the woman died she had Davis promise to free Dorcas here.” He gestured to her. “Davis did so and that’s when Dorcas married. They were together for—it was either 12 or 15 years, I don’t remember. Had four children. The issue—” Dorcas’ loudest shriek yet. “Goddammit, woman! Keep it down over there! Where was I?”
“You mentioned a problem,” I said.
“Right, right. The problem was Davis never drafted papers for her freedom. Or he never gave them to her. But Davis remarried and died and that widow married a man named Orme and Orme realized Dorcas lacked freedom papers. Sold her and the children to Mr. Birch, my client, for 700 dollars.”
“Wait.” I turned to Thomas, then to Dorcas, and then back to Dyer. “She’s a free woman.
“Yes, I can.” He straightened his posture. “I read about this. Without the papers she was never free. Birch owns her and I’ve the right to arrange her sale. Look it up.” He acted like he’d discovered my secret intent.
I turned to the Allen family. Dorcas maintained her state and the girls stared at me. “What happened next?” I asked. Kept my eyes on the children. “After Birch bought them?”
“They spent a night in a slave prison in Alexandria so he could fetch them the next day,”
Dyer said. “The prison visible from the Capitol Building.”
“Is that when—”
“Yes. That’s the night she killed the young two.”
“The boy was four,” he said. “The girl under a year.” I thought of Baby Louisa and felt a thunderclap upon me but refused to cry. “She tried killing these two but they fought and yelled until other slaves stopped her. Then she tried ending herself and failed. You read about the trial in the advertisement?”
“Yes,” Thomas said. “Acquitted for insanity.”
“You can see why.” Dyer gestured to her.
I studied Dorcas. I couldn’t begin to empathize with what she’d endured. Our lives were too different but I pictured myself undergoing similar hardships. I hated the feeling of events beyond my control shaping my life and she confronted this at its maximum extent. To be a slave, worse, a slave who’d known freedom and had it stripped away, to know her children’s fate. What spirit could withstand such torture? What society asked to find out?
“She isn’t insane,” I said. “Her action was a response to slavery’s character.”
Dyer snorted. “Believe what you want.”
I kept my eyes on Dorcas. “You won’t delay the auction?”
“Why should I?”
“How about this: if you fail to sell her, ask her husband to visit my home tomorrow night.”
Thomas grabbed my arm. “John, are you—”
“Yes,” I said. To Dyer, “Will you do that?”
A moment as Dyer watched me. “You’re gonna help him buy her?”
“If I can. The outcome is the same for you and Birch. Money is money.”
“Why do you care?” He pointed at Dorcas. “About them?”
I paused to find an answer to satisfy both Dyer and myself. “Some are slaves to others. The rest of us are lucky to only serve our own souls.”
Another moment. “I’ll do it.”
“Thank you,” I said. “Do you have a paper so I can write my address?”
All About the Book
The classical era of American history began with the Revolution and ended with emancipation. Between these bookends lies the absorbing yet overshadowed epic of a new nation spearheading liberty’s cause in a world skeptical of freedom arriving at all, much less in slaver’s garb. M. B. Zucker takes readers back to that adolescent country in the care of an enigmatic guide, John Quincy Adams, heir to one president by blood and another, Washington, by ideology. Adams is the missing link between the founders and Abraham Lincoln, and is nigh unanimously regarded as America’s foremost Secretary of State. Through Adams’ eyes, readers will experience one of history’s greatest and most forgotten crises: his showdown with Europe over South American independence, the conflict which prefigured the Monroe Doctrine.
With his signature dialogue and his close study of Adams’ 51 volume diary, M. B. Zucker’s The Middle Generation is a political thriller and character piece that surpasses his achievement in The Eisenhower Chronicles and ascends to the cinematic heights of the historical epics of David Lean and Steven Spielberg. It is an unforgettable portrait and a leap forward for one of our rising historical fiction novelists.
All About M.B. Zucker
M. B. Zucker has been interested in storytelling for as long as he can remember. He devoted himself to historical fiction at fifteen and earned his B.A. at Occidental College and his J.D. at Case Western Reserve University School of Law. He lives in Virginia with his family. He is the author of three other novels. Among his honors is the Best Fictional Biography Award at the 2023 BookFest.
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The title will be available in several Barnes and Noble stores in the DC / Northern Virginia area.