Montaña Estatua

A Chapter-by-Chapter Synopsis

The book is set in the Sierra Fangoso Mountains in southern New Mexico near the town of Mudgap.  The title is the name of a prominent mountain on which a mysterious statue is found, lost and found again. When seen the statue integrates with reality’s background noise and when unseen it is assumed imaginary. The mystery of its origin alternately intrigues and fatigues, with the promise of unknown forces or the irrelevance of Avogadro’s number.  

The book is composed of six chapters, each recounting events from the late nineteenth-century to the current era.  The stories gather in associative jots as if falling from the memory.  Characters momentarily prevail to settle onto the page like patterns of sand left by the relentless New Mexico wind.  Each chapter carries the theme of its title, “Waxing”, “Waning”, “The High Reedy”, “The Low Howl”, “Crossroads Breakdown”, and “Crossroads Ramble”.  They are preceded by a brief “Foreword From the Chorus” and followed by an “Afterword From the Bear Hill Players”.  Each chapter is divided into sixteen sections connected by short bridges.

The inter-sectional bridges for “Waxing” and “Waning” reconnoiter the 1974 Mudgap Centennial Pageant.  The bridges for “The High Reedy” and “The Low Howl” feature the central character’s crazy cousin.  In “Crossroads Breakdown” and “Crossroads Ramble”, the bridges rotate among three prominent characters from different eras.

“A Foreword From the Chorus” is a brief, multi-voiced conversation later realized to occur in the head of one of the characters.  It expresses exasperation with over analysis and advocates just getting on with it.

“Waxing” begins in 2005 with central character Andy Lownde enduring a vexing Fourth of July celebration at the Lownde’s family home, a reservoir of childhood memories he usually avoids.  In a scene shift we meet elderly Cynthia Johnson, retired English teacher, who is helping with holiday preparations at the Mudgap Historical Society. We learn of a scholastic honor called the “Bohannon Scholar” and, in a more dramatic scene shift to 1877, we meet the Bohannon for whom the schools are named. His post-Civil War wanderings bring him to Mudgap where he shoots the local schoolteacher and is hired to replace him.  Another scene shift back to 1959 follows Andy through his junior year in high school when he meets a younger Cynthia Johnson, the recently-hired Junior High English teacher, when she serves as the Science Fair sponsor.  Andy suffers through a teenaged crush on the young woman who is herself attracted to Andy’s harmlessly deranged older cousin, Powder.  We learn Andy grew up at the Lownde family home in Mudgap under the supervision of his Grandpa Ruel Lownde while his parents pursued the Air Force career of Andy’s father. We also learn of a Mudgap Centennial Pageant scripted by Cynthia Johnson before Cousin Powder’s eccentric father, Major Latch, rescripted it and transformed Mudgap history and Bohannon’s legacy into dime-novel fiction.  These themes, the elder Andy on the Fourth of July coping with childhood memories, the high-school Andy forming those memories, Bohannon’s rough-handed nurturing of local scholars and the reduction of his legacy to frontier yarn, merge with two others. The English teacher, Cynthia Johnson, pursuing a chain of dubious deductions throughout her teaching career, stumbles across a consanguine mystery involving her legendary predecessor, the unmarried Bohannon. Andy’s increasingly deranged cousin Powder drops a conundrum into the 2005 Fourth of July festivities by spelling out an incomprehensible message with the city’s fireworks and hijacking the Lownde’s old steam train.  The “Waxing” theme culminates in the characters reaching a state of temporary contentment.

“Waning” begins in Bohannon’s later years and recounts friendships with the future patriarch of the Lownde clan, Ruel, and with Rollie Morgan, scion of the Morgan Mercantile and Freight Company. The mood shifts steadily lower throughout the chapter in a continuation of sharply divergent scene shifts. We learn about Rockman Canyon, filled with archeological artifacts and ghost stories, and about young Ruel Lownde’s nearly heroic aspirations.  We witness the arrival in Mudgap of a Bohannon contemporary, Tom LeMaster, an illustrator and engraver who paints a picture of the namesake statue on nearby Montaña Estatua. We follow the young Andy into his senior year in High School, watch the current-era Andy’s business ventures percolate toward disaster and continue exploring the Mudgap Centennial Pageant, a central feature in the narrative.  We watch as the frontier Mudgap is visited by juvenile delinquents, a Canadian prospector and a medicine show grifter who combine to test Bohannon’s mettle as we further explore the enigma of Rockman Canyon.  We follow Ruel Lownde from young adult to elderly patriarch, remarking the causes of his steadily diminishing confidence until he finally appeals to the young-adult Andy for help in salvaging his legacy.  We learn the artist LeMaster’s inner life nurtures a devotion to the Great Lost Cause during which he was an engraver in Jefferson Davis’ mint.  We go with him to Chickamauga where he expects the dedication of the battlefield to foreshadow a resurrection of the Confederacy.  Andy’s senior year in High School descends steadily into ever more urgent futility as he struggles with college applications and scholarships.  His brittle confidence is shattered when his Cousin Powder’s father, village character Major Latch, crashes a homemade dirigible during Andy’s oral examination by the scholarship judges.   Descent of the mood is completed with Ruel failing to convince adult Andy to take over the Lownde Manor, young Andy completely at sea about his college plans, current-era Andy losing his hoped-for business venture, and the elderly Bohannon reminded of his bone-crushing personal guilt deriving from, among other things, war adventures, imprudent betrayal of his best friend and estrangement from his family.

“The High Reedy” solicits our characters’ most luminous spirits as they strive for understanding and completion.  Continuing the practice of abrupt scene changes the chapter begins with a beatific moment by Andy’s visionary sister Maude and continues through some ghost memories of the 1906 World Series by various characters in different eras.  Bohannon’s illicit relationship with Rollie Morgan’s mother disturbs the natural harmonies and shapes events.  Adventures with the Lownde’s private railroad, the Shortcut Line, unravel its influence in local history and explain the Army’s presence in Rockman Canyon.  The spiritual quest of the Latch family over four generations, Major Latch, his crazy son, Powder, and their ancestors, is energized by a hand stamp bearing a mystical incantation that passes from father to son and influences each recipient’s life.  The Pima Indians are discovered to have a connection to the stone statue on Montaña Estatua and we watch their meditations pass from generation to generation triggering a flashover between the Latch’s and the Pima’s in the mind of crazy cousin Powder Latch.  We discover the statue has gone missing after being sighted and painted by the dreamy confederate engraver, Tom LeMaster.  Andy Lownde rediscovers it in the early fifties and it becomes central to his imagination in a mental construction as important to him as the Pima’s ceremonial dance is to them.  Andy’s sister Maude envisions and paints chimerical scenes outside her temporal experiences, to the discomfort of her family. In the frontier era LeMaster, the engraver, is revealed as a currency counterfeiter and his reasons for painting the old stone statue are revealed.  Working on contract to the railroad’s promoters he paints imagined scenes of the never-completed Shortcut Line and ensures its continuation into the future as a tangible presence.  Andy goes to college in the early sixties and carries his rediscovery of the stone statue as a mental talisman.  The chapter closes with Andy’s sister Maude, confronted by mass murder around the University of Texas tower, shunning any glorification of the horror and opting for a visionary depiction of heaven.

“The Low Howl” mimics the desperate, futile voice of the underworld.  It begins with Ruel Lownde and his seldom-seen son, Andy’s father, witnessing the first atomic bomb from the top of a storm-blown Montaña Estatua.  In a series of scene shifts we learn about some earthquakes that rumble through the Mudgap area in the 1880’s.  Their daimonic forces hide the statue and expose to the reader Bohannon’s betrayal of his best friend, Joe Morgan.  We watch several generations of the Latch family obsess over the mysterious hand stamp. Powder Latch flails against his growing dementia. In the early sixties Ruel Lownde’s sense of personal mission compels him to employ derring-do and luck in rescuing the son of his black chief engineer from a Mississippi jail. The event resonates through several lives and years.  The adult Andy finds work in the defense industry and hacks his way into the corporate jungle longing for lost dreams as he compromises his ideals with decisions that seem inevitable. The true meaning of the prominent but obscure “Frenchy and Jack” monument on the Lownde place is partially discovered by the Lownde family and fully revealed to the reader.  In the current era Andy’s Aunt Maxine, Ruel’s sister and Lownde family matriarch since Ruel’s death, passes away leaving the Lownde estate leaderless and the reluctant Andy the most obvious heir apparent.  The three husbands of Andy’s sister, Maude, are sketched and the precept of the third about stage drama is explored, to wit, the most important part of a three-act play is the curtain call.  We join Bohannon on his pre-Mudgap wanderings while he writes letters to his family back in Missouri begging forgiveness for joining the wrong side in the Civil War.  When he finally settles in Mudgap he sends more letters home but never receives a reply.  As indication of the gods’ disfavor Bohannon is forced to shoot another of his friends, a pitiful wretch driven homicidally mad by memories of his childhood abduction by Comanches.  Bohannon passes away and Ruel observes his funeral.  The chapter closes with Ruel realizing the atomic bomb will prevent his oldest son, Andy’s father, from going to the Pacific although the war has already claimed his youngest son and his favorite nephew.

“Crossroads Breakdown” keynotes the unexpected interruptions of life’s plans.  It begins with the balkiness of the Lownde’s diesel locomotive on their private Shortcut Line before we follow the 2005 pilgrimage of Bohannon’s great-great-great grandnephew, Larry Davenport, briefly seen in the first chapter.  Davenport’s car breaks down while he is retracing Bohannon’s century-old flight from Missouri.  While getting his car fixed in a small Texas town he encounters, without knowing it, Andy’s crazy cousin Powder Latch who also breaks down on his way to Mudgap to set off the Fourth of July fireworks and hijack the old steam train in supplication to his ancestors’ hand stamp (see “Waxing”).  In scenes predating Bohannon’s death the origin of his friendship with Joe Morgan, whom he betrays repeatedly in later years, is explored.  Bohannon helps the Morgans retain their lucrative freighting contract with the Solomon Mine by outwitting some Texas thieves.  Crazy cousin Powder abides a complete mental breakdown while pursuing his PhD at the end of World War II.  Rollie Morgan, illegitimate son of Bohannon, learns of his arcane parentage from a confession his mother’s sister secreted in her wardrobe.  Major Latch and his wife are revealed as the author-illustrator of some well known but outrageously fictionalized accounts of Bohannon’s life.  We see Ruel Lownde’s favorite nephew taking the path that puts him in the South Pacific during the war. He goes missing and his death is officially acknowledged in the early fifties after his mother has established the Mudgap Historical Society.  Andy at college in the sixties wins an award for his high school musical composition and works on an opera about Mudgap history. He eventually takes a job in the defense industry to avoid the Viet Nam war. His decision is sealed as his career follows a path of increasing trust and responsibility.  Bohannon’s letters survive into the hands of his grand-niece before making their way from Missouri to New Mexico, some carried by Larry Davenport and one finding its way directly to Major Latch because of his preposterous books on Bohannon.  Andy’s high school rival for the affections of his eventual wife finds life’s twists puzzling when his daughter marries Andy’s son. Maude discovers her third husband’s infidelity and begins to understand his maxim about the curtain call being the most important part of a play.  The elder Andy prepares for a class reunion and consults with an old colleague about what to say. His career sputters into a crossroad and emerges on a different path.  The chapter ends with a meeting of the local thespians, the Bear Hill Players, and a reading from a famous play about the fallacy of false tradeoffs.

“Crossroads Ramble” is the antithesis of “Crossroads Breakdown”, uninterrupted forward progress.  It begins with a dream analysis of her marriage by Andy’s wife.  Powder Latch begins the fated journey to Mudgap that will culminate with fireworks and the train hijacking. Undeterred by the breakdown of his car Powder arrives in Mudgap and, operating under the veil of insanity, prepares to complete his family’s multi-generational religious devotion to their empty-vessel hand stamp.  He plots delivery of mystical messages and plans his escape via the old steam train, down the abandoned Shortcut Line.  Bohannon makes another appearance to further solidify his friendship with Joe Morgan, Rollie’s putative father.  Bohannon helps the Morgans with their unavailing plans to stop the coming railroad, a threat to the Morgan’s freight business.  The Mudgap career of Colonel Bujeanne, a confidence trickster bent on getting his hands on the school district’s treasury, is introduced. Colonel Bujeanne befriends the sister of Rollie Morgan’s mother, the chairman of the school board, and entices that poor woman to record her secret about Rollie’s illicit lineage as part of his plot to embezzle school funds.  The woman’s confession is beguiled from her and hidden in a secret compartment of her wardrobe, which Bujeanne cleverly carves for her. After Colonel Bujeanne dies his wife, an artist, chips out a granite statue of him and places it at the gates to the cemetery when the city fathers, finally realizing Bujeanne’s perfidy, refuse to allow it inside the cemetery. Various storylines are advanced in singular scene shifts: a Lownde family story of the women-folk shooting skunks, the discovery of Major Latch’s books on Bohannon by a movie producer, a barroom discussion of the Atlanta Cotton Exposition and others.  In the current era Bohannon-descendant Larry Davenport, who has finally escaped Van Horn, meets up with Powder. Davenport finds the crazed gentleman at the cemetery in front of Bohannon’s grave.  After Powder departs via the train back to Texas the family puzzles about his motives.  He passes away and Andy’s sister Maude paints a typically visionary picture of him. Andy is drawn back to the family business by his aunt’s death.  He reluctantly takes over and, in the course of musing over family tragedies, notices the old wardrobe that has migrated from the Morgan to the Lownde home.  He discovers the hidden message that discloses Bohannon’s parentage of the last two Morgan children and realizes his own wife and therefore his own children are descended from the legendary Bohannon.  Later, Andy decodes a cryptogram left by his deceased cousin Powder.  As he reads the message, a plaintive adjuration to an objective reality, he hears the convivial voice of Powder’s long-dead father, Major Latch.  At the end Andy realizes he is alone with nothing to guide him but his own vision.

“An Afterword From the Bear Hill Players” is a script fragment imagining the book to be a play.  The young Andy appears on stage, the Lownde home, and exits toward an offstage voice to join a gathering of some kind.  The elder Andy enters with an old family retainer and it develops they are about to participate in the curtain call.  Andy puzzles aloud about there being two versions of him on stage at the same time and his companion explains that everyone shows up for the curtain call.  Andy asks if his friend will be represented by multiple versions as well.  He is told, “There will just be one of me.  I didn’t leave anyone behind.”  As they walk toward the audience the lights go out and the curtain falls