Jerry Apps subtitled his novel about late 1800s Wisconsin, A Historical Novel about a pionerr preacher because the book is centered around the fictional preacher Increase Joseph and his Standalone congregation. The group traveled as a whole from New York prior to the Civil War with Increase as their leader. It wasn't religious persecution that pushed them west, but depleted crop land and the allure of fresh, untilled soil. They find fresh soil, but also harsh lives, and limited acceptance.
Increase inspires and bewilders his congregation and neighbors with a message of our connection to the Land, supposedly the message from his private never-shared red book, and the powers of his secret recipe tonic. Although Apps took the name Increase from well known Wisconsin naturalist/scientist Increase Lapham, I believe Increase Joseph's character is purely fictional. Authenticity is woven throughout the book as Increase and the congregation are touched by historical events such as the draft of Wisconsin men for the North's war efforts and the Peshtigo fire. I don't consider myself an expert on either Wisconsin or farming history, but I have enough background knowledge to know that small religious groups did populate small town Wisconsin in the 1800s, off shoots I believe of the Great Awakening movement. Their influence has mainly died off and most communities today are home to only the major denominations. Also woven throughout the book is the conflict between technological advances and the old ways of farming.
Like other Apps' novels, these are books filled with local color and an underpinning of respect for our rural heritage. That may make their appeal limited, but it also creates a sound, loyal following. Jerry Apps himself was just the subject of a Wisconsin PBS special, showing his impact on Wisconsin literature. Anyone who attended a rural school, was raised on a farm in the first 50 years of the 20th Century, or has imagined what those days were like will treasure this look back. Apps has written a series of fiction books centered around rural life in a fictional central Wisconsin county. He has also written many nonfiction books documenting our barns, farms, and rural past. The lady who organizes the weekly men's coffee hour at the nursing home where my dad resides often uses Jerry App books as conversation starters. According to her, when she reads a passage, the memories begin to flow, and elderly men who believe they have nothing in common, find they do - their memories.
Here is my question to you today- Who are your local authors that have a mission to capture the uniqueness and color that is your region? In capturing that, do they perhaps, like Apps, capture those feelings that unite us all?
Check out this link to Jerry App's website where you can read some blog entries, find a list of his books, and learn more about the man. I just noticed that he released a new book in November. My list of books to read just got longer again. Isn't it great that it never gets shorter?