Many of us who loved to read when we were very young, who read everything we could get our hands on starting in elementary school, at some point had a historical fiction phase. For me, this took the form of devouring books by Ann Rinaldi, Scott O’Dell, the Dear America series, even (gulp) the American Girl Dolls books. This seems natural to me in the way that the popularity of fantasy and science fiction do—what could be better than discovering, along with characters and their fates, entire worlds?
What I think we forget as we grow up is how truly weird the past can be. But fortunately, we readers have Ben Stroud to remind us. In his story “The Traitor of Zion,” idealistic settlers overlap with whiskey smugglers on an island utopia in Lake Michigan. But to give that summary, spoiler free though it is, grossly undersells this story—not for nothing did it first appear in Ecotone’s Sex and Death issue.
Stroud’s layers of story are immersing. There’s a charlatan, as you may have suspected, but throughout the story the characters’ moralities are overturned—fathers acknowledge failings to their daughters, lovers fail in atonement, and enemies become new brothers. The characters are driven by desires not different from our own—a twenty-three-year-old works a dead end job during the day and drinks away his nights, all while wishing for some greater purpose. Stroud’s characters long for love, purity and grace, and struggle between the pulls of the sacred and the profane, the safety of home and the call of adventure.Continue Reading