Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Leveller
Jacqueline Dembar Greene
1984, Walker & Company

In 1779 Massachusetts, a young man named Tom Cook lives alone, regarded uneasily by his neighbors. They can't deny he has helped the poorest among them by his 'levelling' activities of stealing from the rich to give to the needy, but there are rumors about Cook, rumors that won't die. It's said that when he was an infant, his mother sold his soul to the devil in order to save his life from a fever. The story has plagued him his whole life, forcing his family to abandon the community of Westborough and their devil-owned son, and leaving even the most kindly neighbors somewhat in fear of him. It's only when Jesse Baxter, a boy whose family is new to the village, comes to see him that Tom realizes how lonely he's been.

"You don't have to be so alone," Jesse offered. "You could make friends with the farmers you've helped. They trust you."

"No, Jess. I won't be accepted in this town unless I stand before the Meeting and confess that the devil's led me to steal and ask the forgiveness of the Meeting. I'll never do it. I'm serving God in my own way and don't need anyone's blessing."

Tom's stubborn, proud and resentful of the minister who bought his family's former home. He may be the perfect New Englander. But he also has a devilish sense of humor, one that bails him out of various human traps and may, in the end, bail him out of his hellish bargain. For the story is true; Beelzebub has bought Tom Cook's soul and is intent on collecting.

A quick, character-first story that blends the stoic blandness of the New England colonial period with the snappish color of a ghost story. Tom's a convincing character, and his enemies are given some depth. The robin hood aspect of the story is less believable, and rather glossed over, as is Jesse's character.

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