PREVIEW OF COMING ATTRACTIONS
AGGIE BRAGA. Book I: THE LYNCHING TREE. Book II: AGGIE BRAGA
AGGIE BRAGA is a sprawling American epic, featuring thirty major characters, just as many minor ones, and six locations, occurring over thirty years from the mid-twenties to the mid-fifties.
It begins in the sweltering Arkansas delta, just prior to the cotton harvest. Sheriff Marty Bohann, a decorated hero of the world war, who covets wealth and power, is instigating a sharecropper rebellion against plantation owner and Congressman Roger Bucklaw, whose son Douglas has just returned from a year-long European vacation with a dubious tutor named Neville. The grande seignior and son must stand and fight against the violent usurpers.
The eponymous Aggie, the mysterious sharecropper’s daughter, born to song and the promise of a great art, has been raped by her villainous cousin Ferd Ronsville. She blames Douglas, her childhood sweetheart, for removing the shield of protection he had provided, calling his sabbatical an “abdication.” Over the next twenty years, as the beautiful, talented Aggie rises to movie stardom in Hollywood, Douglas strives desperately to atone for abandoning her to the savages. His quest for redemption opens him to a series of failures and misadventures. The once bright and happy youth becomes cynical and misanthropic enough to contemplate murdering anyone who gets in his way.
Aggie’s ascent to the pinnacle of Hollywood stardom, which begins just as talking pictures come on line, is masterminded by a manipulative crime reporter named Harkness Lemon and her dictatorial tutor Hetta Braga. Driven by an irrepressible sense of masochism, Aggie seeks sainthood, not movie stardom. She keeps the child forced on her by Ferd, who moves to Chicago and becomes a bootlegger and pimp of sporting women. Called “Crummy” for his bucolic demeanor, he and his gang of home-grown hicks dare to challenge the supreme rule of the infamous Al Capone.
From the Arkansas delta, the story moves to Chicago, where Aggie comes under the tutelage of Hetta Braga and her gangster brother Heitor who, though homosexual, marries Aggie to give her and her son an aura of respectability. After the sharecropper rebellion, Douglas escapes to New York, returns under the spell of the fallen Jusuit Neville and achieves temporary stardom on the Broadway stage. In the Ozark wilderness of the Missouri “Boot” Aggie, hunted by bloodthirsty Ferd whom she has betrayed by not becoming his number one sporting woman, is sheltered by Hark Lemon’s uncle Lias, on whose farm the notorious outlaw Jesse James once hid out from the Pinkertons. Douglas, driven to gain Aggie Braga’s forgiveness, seeks respite in Oklahoma with his father’s first wife, Riga Cochran, and her fiery, devious daughter Phyllis, who had once been a contentious foster daughter of the Bucklaws. In the “short-grass country,” Douglas falls in love with the poetic, tormented Birdie Cochran, in whose tremulous embrace he tries to forget Aggie.
The novel’s penultimate location is Maxine’s nightclub, set on a bluff overlooking California Highway One, near Newport Beach, where Hark and his wife Cluny, a former Ziegfeld Follies star, have bought a bungalow and a “poor man’s yacht.” Douglas, down-and-out, has come to the club seeking work and is immediately hired by the imperious Maxine as her lover, piano player and all-around geek. Hark Lemon and Cluny Avril are reunited with Douglas after the extended hiatus, during which Aggie has become Hollywood’s brightest star. Douglas, bitter and desperate for Aggie’s forgiveness, has come to this last place on earth after years of aimless wandering. He must have one last meeting with her before drifting off again.
The novel ends where it began: in the steaming Arkansas delta, undergoing social upheaval following the Supreme Court desegregation order of 1954. Douglas has, in a burst of atavistic pride after Aggie granted his long-sought redemption, returned to revitalize the plantation and keep it from passing to the ownership of young “Bolsheviks.” In his convoluted affairs with domineering women, he has sired three illegitimate sons who have no love for him and oppose his intrusion after the long abdication from their lives. Old and weary, having become the very reactionary conservative he had detested as an idealistic liberal, Douglas once more must fight to save his ancestral land—this time against his own flesh and blood.