Then his teacher steered him toward another target.
“Too much about cancer and toxic tap water and what goes into hot dogs,” he recalls her telling the group after reading three days of dirges. “Try to write lighthearted. Write something funny.”
Gould, half of the self-described “clown jewels” duo Gould & Stearns, boasts more than three decades of slapstick experience. But could he shed a comedic light on something as controversial as wind turbines atop the Green Mountains?
Enter “Marly,” a 102-page novella just released by the Brattleboro-based Green Writers Press.
“‘Marly’ is the most unusual book I’ve ever written,” the author says. “The form requires much of the reader. And the philosophy, too. When the idea hit me, I realized that even for passionate environmentalists, there’s a complicated, ambiguous side to the movement that needs to be understood.”
Gould, a Pennsylvania native, came to the state in 1969 to help found Guilford’s Packer Corners commune — part of the back-to-the-land migration he went on to chronicle in the novels “Burnt Toast” (published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1971) and “Write Naked” (published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 2008).
Gould would leave the commune to earn a doctorate at Brandeis University in Boston — where he taught in the MFA acting program — before returning to Vermont, where he’s partnered professionally with Stearns and personally with state Rep. Mollie Burke, P/D-Brattleboro.
Gould usually juggles writing and directing plays and teaching Shakespeare and peace and justice studies. But in the summer of 2011, stopping to attend the Wildbranch Writing Workshop at Sterling College in Craftsbury, “this story popped into my head.”
The resulting book is unusual even for someone with Gould’s counterculture bent. First, the title character of Marly — a young woman pictured in dreadlocks on the paperback’s cover — isn’t quoted in the pages that follow. Instead, the sole voice is that of a male power company publicist who’s explaining himself to his new acquaintance.
“Just a hack,” the character says on page 48. “Handing out stuff to help people get comfy. Or, you know, stickin’ free pens and stuff in plastic bowls at Energy Expos —
“You know, trade shows. Putting on my smile. Like this.
“You been to places like that, you know —
“Okay, you haven’t, but you can imagine …”
The cover bills the book as “a novella in one voice,” while its publicity says, “It’s a story with no description, a theater without a stage, a dialogue with only one speaker’s voice recorded. You, the reader, must fill in all the lines left out. Marly’s lines.”
Vermont novelist Howard Norman says of his friend Gould’s book: “With Marly, he has again taken on an urgent subject, no less than saving the earth, with brassy humor, verbal pyrotechnics, and dialogue so vivid, it’s as if a reader is standing right next to the characters as they philosophically riff, fling ideas back and forth, flirt and light up with moods and opinions.”
Gould speaks of his work more modestly.
“My advice to the reader?” the author says. “Read the whole thing out loud. Choose a name and an appropriate voice for the guy. You’ll have to fill in everything she says, and wait while she says it, but, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with an interactive book, is there?
“Right. That’s what I thought, too.”
Gould, whose past novels have been produced by two of New York’s most prestigious publishers, is releasing “Marly” through Green Writers Press, a Vermont imprint aiming to spread the state’s environmental ethos by giving a percentage of its proceeds to such causes as the grassroots climate-crisis group 350.org.
The Brattleboro-based outfit will print Gould’s communal farm memoir “Life Is Short Eat More Pie” early next year. But with wind projects and proposals generating headlines in such towns as Grafton, Irasburg, Sheffield, Swanton and Windham, the author knows his present book will resonate well into the future.
“‘Marly’ is fiction — the woman with that name is purely imaginary,” Gould says, “but the ridgelines she loves are real, and some of the problems and conflicts that come with our rapid embrace of alternative energy will not be leaving us soon.”
Kevin O’Connor, a former staffer of the Rutland Herald and Barre-Montpelier Times Argus, is a Brattleboro-based writer. Email: [email protected]