Saturday, August 23, 2014

Synopsis: The Alternative

Synopsis:  The Alternative
Author: George McNeish
London, Ontario
N6B 1H3
Genre: Fictional History
Word Count: 115,980
Number of Pages: 422
Line Spacing: Double
Font/Size: Times New Roman / 12

The Alternative

This fictional history is set in Louisiana USA in the 1800’s.

Truth is stranger than fiction. This book sets out to make more sense than the US civil war that started in 1861. It seems unbelievable that a country would do more damage to themselves than any outside force has ever done. The Alternative explores another possibility that would be more believable.

The story begins with the birth of the main characters. Chapter one covers the birth and childhood of Bobby Johnson and chapter two deals with the birth and childhood of Ruthie Lancer. Bobby was an only child who had a very kind father who was a slave owner. Bobby made friends with his father’s slaves and had difficulty understanding why they were treated differently. When the churches criticized his father for not whipping his slaves, Bobby was confused. He became more and more convinced that slavery was wrong and vowed he would never be a slave owner.

Ruthie’s mother died giving birth to her and she was raised by her father’s slaves. Her father is a very cruel master and he blames his daughter for his wife’s death. Ruthie has a very troubled childhood and tries to protect the slaves from her father. Her best friend is one of her father’s slaves, but it is not a friendship on an equal basis. Krissy is more like a favourite pet than a best friend.

Ruthie discovered that she was not an only child when she was fourteen. It was then that she found out that Sheila’s son, Willy, was her half brother and that her best friend was pregnant with her father’s child. Sheila was responsible for raising Ruthie from the age of three. When her father died Ruthie found out she had another brother that she knew nothing about. She finally met him in 1849 when she was 44 years old.

Ruthie and Bobby got married in 1825 after a very rocky courtship. Their attempts to get to know each other were hindered by Ruthie’s abusive father and the system of slavery. As they overcame one problem after another, the effects that slavery had on them and others was highlighted.

Although Bobby vowed not to be a slave owner, it is his best friend, Samson, who came up with the plan to end slavery. Samson was a sickly child. Since he wasn’t suited to plantation work he was kept as a playmate for Bobby. When Bobby came home from school each day, he would often play school with his friend and in that way Samson learned to read and write. Later, when Bobby went north to learn about Christianity, away from the influence of the southern preachers, he took Samson along and they both got a college education.

Samson’s physical strength was not great, although it did get better when he left the slave diet behind and got better nutrition. His real strength was in his mind and his unshakable faith in God. Samson married Krissy in a double ceremony with Bobby and Ruthie. Together the foursome went on to change the history of the south.

Would they be able to prevent a war? That question was not answered until the last chapter. The main characters struggled to put Samson’s plan into action and end slavery before it caused a civil war but the reader would never be sure if it could be done. Indeed, the author even had doubts while writing it.

The story discusses the advantages of a cooperative society over a competitive one while showing how love and kindness can triumph over hate and cruelty and how the actions of one man can have a ripple effect that changes the whole society he lives in. It also shows the evils of having different standards for black and white, male and female.

It contains emotional challenges, romantic struggles, humour and challenges to bigoted religious beliefs.
 Subjects addressed.

When a young man discovers that North American slavery is not the will of God, how does he have faith in the Almighty while the religious leaders and everyone else is telling him he is wrong?

We all have heard stories of the evils of slavery but in these pages we look at how it affects families of both colours. For instance, how will the daughter of the slave owner react when she finds out that her father is responsible for getting a slave her own age pregnant? How will a mother respond to news that she will gain her freedom if her daughter is still a slave?

Paul breathed out threatening and persecution of the Christians, Ichabod Kempler preached venomous words against the actions of Bobby, but they both had a dramatic conversion and became strong supporters of the causes they formerly opposed. The conversion of Ichabod was much more humorous as it involved, not a blinding light, but a stubborn mule.  

In this book I attempt to examine the emotional effects that slavery had on both the slaves and the slave owners. I look at the effects it had on families, the economy and the overall wellbeing of all the players in the drama. We get inside the heads of those who knew nothing but slavery, both from the slaves point of view and the masters point of view. The difficulty of changing a belief system that was taken for granted for 200 years is examined. Indeed, such belief could only be changed by the power of God, but my characters, although they have faith, are never sure that they are doing things the way God wanted. They were sure He wanted to end slavery, but perhaps by avoiding a devastating war there would not be enough retribution for the evils that had been committed.
Inspiration for the story.

When I became chairman of the Fugitive Slave Chapel Preservation Project in London, Ontario, my wife urged me to write a book about the chapel. In researching the subject I found that John Brown spoke at the Chapel the year before his attack at Harpers Ferry. This led to a study of the Civil War and when I learned of the devastation I began to wonder how a country could have done this to itself. I thought the true story was unbelievable and I set out to write a more believable fictional history of the era.

When reading about John Brown I came across a description of him by Frederick Douglass and was immediately impressed by  his perspective. I read everything I could find that was written by Douglass and became more impressed by his ability to see things from all points of view. Usually one needs to read many sources to get a complete picture, but Douglass, in his autobiographies, show how slavery was affecting both slave and master.

My writing has been greatly affected by the perspective of Fredrick Douglass who makes two appearances in the book. I have also been influenced by the writings of Harriet Beecher Stowe, Booker T. Washington and Solomon Northup.


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