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Book reviewer got it wrong

November 26, 2012
By Charles H. Yaple

I write in regard to Roger Mitchell's review of my book, "Foxey Brown: A Story of an Adirondack Outlaw, Hermit and Guide as he Might Have Told It." His review appeared in the Oct. 3 issue of the Adirondack Daily Enterprise. Since Mitchell's review ("History as myth in 'Foxey Brown'") is a negative one, you may, in the interest of fairness, consider publishing the following rebuttal.

While Mitchell is certainly entitled to his opinion of "Foxey Brown"'s literary merits, he does owe readers an accurate overview of the book's contents. He begins by erroneously stating that my brother and I found exploring (and it was that sort of adventure for us) Fall Stream "undramatic" while, in fact, several pages are devoted to the wild and beautiful natural aspects of the area. He also manages to get some critical events (Foxey Brown's brief return to Boston and then back to Piseco) in the book out of chronological order. I will skip other inconsistencies in Mitchell's recounting of events in the book.

Mitchell's biggest gripe-assertion is that not enough is known about the real life of Foxey Brown-David Brennan to warrant writing a novel where he is the main character. Here again, to discredit the story, he says the "whole tale hangs by the slightest threads three or four images of the man, a newspaper article or two, plus the remains of his squatter farm." While it is true only a few images of Foxey Brown exist, more than a dozen newspaper articles are listed in the book's note section, along with description of interviews with descendants of Carlton Banker (Foxey's closest friend) and many of the principal Piseco characters (Charlie Preston, Julia Burton, Bill Abrams and William Dunham). Countless hours during a five-year period were also devoted to examining records of the Piseco, Lake Pleasant, Wells and Hamilton County historical societies and state archives to find anecdotal information about Brown, as well exhaustive genealogical searches of his origins and final days. In addition, dozens of days and nights were spent camping at his homestead, examining the landscape and artifacts. I might add that, since its publication, new information about Foxey Brown continues to surface, documenting that he was, indeed, a trickster who found it humorous that his manufactured wild man reputation kept unwanted visitors away from Brownsville.

The book's title and introductory pages clearly indicate that "Foxey Brown" is not a biography but an attempt to describe the lives and times of Adirondack people during a critical period of the area's history. Most of the featured characters were real people doing what they did and ones that Brown certainly knew. Events such as snowstorms, forest fires and cold spells actually occurred when dates are given in the book, and Brown lived through them at Fall Stream.

Argument aside concerning the facts of Foxey Brown's life, Mitchell misses many of the book's major themes and reasons for it having been written. To his credit, he does catch on that the book has a great deal to say about the evolution of conservation in the Adirondacks. What he misses is that the book is about a tragic figure (not a hero, as Mitchell claims Brown is made out to be), a college-educated man of "some culture and learning by his discussion of affairs and books" who struggles to stay out of trouble, lives alone in the woods, drinks too much, begins to get his life in order, loses his best friend, livelihood and retirement plan, and dies in poverty.

In addition to empathy for the man and wanting to motivate the average reader to become acquainted with conservation history, a major reason for writing "Foxey Brown" as a historical novel was to encourage readers in "an unusual way" (Mitchell's words) to contemplate the benefits of leading a simple and outdoor-oriented lifestyle, one where hiking, hunting, fishing, gardening and enjoying the beauties of nature become habitual.

In the year or so that "Foxey Brown" has been in print, thousands of readers have turned its pages. Only Mr. Mitchell and one other individual (see amazon.com reviews) have stated their dislike of the book, while hundreds of people have gone out of their way to email, telephone, write letters and personally convey how "Foxey Brown" touched them. Perhaps most rewarding have been comments regarding how a husband or child almost never reads and couldn't put the book down. If it takes "opera" (Mitchell's words-assessment, and I suspect he wanted to say soap opera) to motivate people to read and contemplate the importance of conservation, so be it.

Despite Mitchell's attempt to belittle "Foxey Brown," the fact remains that male and female readers ranging from college professors to construction laborers report enthusiastically about the book's merits. I am also honored that historical societies, hiking clubs, libraries, the Adirondack Museum, the Adirondack Interpretive Center and similar organizations continue to request a Foxey Brown presentation-storytelling session.

Finally, for the record, I did not "once teach at SUNY Cortland" but have had the privilege to serve as a professor of outdoor education for the last 36 years. In doing so, I continue to seek novel ways to help people see, understand and love the land.

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Charles H. Yaple, Ph.D., lives in Marathon.

 
 

 

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