City in Amber


City in Amber

Jay Atkinson


     Once known as the textile manufacturing center on the world, the "Immigrant City" literally went up in flames. Based on real events, City in Amber is a novel in the epic tradition, with a central theme of appearance vs. reality, and subsidiary themes of family and romantic love, loyalty, revenge, strength of place, and the corporeal nature of bodies and cities-all explored through the lives of its characters.

ISBN: 978-1-931982-95-5  Library binding: $28      Sale $16.00

ISBN: 978-1-931982-96-2 Trade paper: $19.95     Sale $11.00

445 pages

About the Author: 

Jay Atkinson is a novelist, short story writer, essayist, critic, investigative journalist, and itinerant amateur athlete from Methuen, Mass.  He is the author of two novels, a story collection, and three narrative nonfiction books. Atkinson's latest book is PARADISE ROAD: JACK KEROUAC'S LOST HIGHWAY AND MY SEARCH FOR AMERICA (John Wiley & Sons, 2010) His book, ICE TIME, was a Publisher’s Weekly notable book of the year in 2001, and LEGENDS OF WINTER HILL was on the Boston Globe bestseller list for 7 straight weeks in 2005. A former two sport college athlete, Atkinson has competed in rugby for three decades and continues to play in exotic locales with the Vandals Rugby Club out of Los Angeles.

Excerpt From the Book:

Walter Beaumont felt the world slipping beneath his Oldsmobile as it zoomed down Tower Hill. Outdoors for the first time in a month, the retired banker was lightheaded and queasy, his hands like two claws gripping the steering wheel. Even the contour of his neighborhood looked strange to him: the grand old houses with their medieval turrets and glassed-in widow's peaks, the huge lawns whitened into dust from the September drought, and the iron fences and brick walls and bulkheads rushing by his windows. An old woman in a feathered hat spooked like a pheasant, flushed from an alcove when Beaumont inadvertently touched his horn. His face jerked downward in a sudden fierce apology, then he turned back to the careering pavement, the wheel twisting in his hands like a snake.

          At the bottom of the hill, where the houses shrank and grew closer together, Broadway was crowded with men in nylon skullcaps and long parkas despite the mild weather, their syncopated music shrieking from huge radios. They stood arguing and pushing each other and calling out to the women in passing cars, obscured by steam rising from grates in the road. To Walter, it was like being visited by apparitions. These ghosts indicated there was another city, subterranean to Lawrence, that was heavy with steam and smelled of distant shores—dark, foreign and strange—to which they would return.

          On the site of the Tip-Top Club, where the young Walter Beaumont had danced with his sweethearts, was a place called the Disco Very. It was aqua and pink with bars on the windows and a low concrete marquee. Down the length of Broadway, nondescript stores hawked items of used clothing and broken-down furniture lined the sidewalks. Everywhere there were signs misprinted in English: Fine Cloths for Woman. Good Foo. Electric Waterheeter. A lot of it Walter didn't recognize: Jose's Otto Shop and Store 48 and Alexandre's X-press Likkors, interspersed with several locksmiths and check cashing places.

          Steering his car between the delivery vans and taxis, Beaumont aimed for the river. Hunched against the bright October sky were the Wood and Kunhardt and Pacific mills, expanses of brick that sagged in the middle and featured a thousand broken windows. Above the low buildings on Essex Street, Beaumont saw the six floors of the Ayer Mill rising up from the Merrimack. The mill tower was capped with a green copper roof and weather vane, pointing north in the wind, and the great disk of the Ayer Mill clock. In just a few minutes it would be ticking again, re-dedicated in his honor. But then his gaze drifted to the trash piled against the bulging fences and the storefronts with their metal shutters, and Walter despaired over what had become of his city. Lawrence was under siege.

          He panicked at the next intersection when he attempted a left-hand turn and discovered Essex Street was now one-way. His mouth open in disbelief, Beaumont sat with his hands frozen on the wheel and sweat running in a deluge from his armpits and beneath his collar. Motorists whizzed past on both sides, cursing in Spanish and Portuguese and shaking their fists. Then a stout, hairy-chested man in fluorescent green shorts sprinted toward him, his legs churning as he ran among the moving vehicles.

          "Go back," the man said.

            With a screech from the undercarriage Beaumont rolled his car in an arc, back onto Broadway heading south. He tried another left at Lawton's Frankfurters but the traffic pulled him along, over the O'Leary Bridge and away from the Ayer Mill. On a girder someone had painted a blue crown and the words "Latin Kings Ruel." The Merrimack glittered beneath Walter's tires, and he heard the falls beside the Great Dam and a hum that sounded like ten million insects emanating from the power station.