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STILL OUT ON A LIMB

On Hurricane Island

My wife Elli’s second novel was published this week. In the words of the Center for Constitutional Rights’ Michael Ratner, “On Hurricane Island is a chilling, Kafkaesque story about what happens when the United States does to citizens at home what it has done to others abroad. Meeropol puts the reader right into the middle of these practices through characters about whom you really care and a story you can’t put down; a really good book.”

I’ve been waiting for this moment since I read the initial draft of her first chapter in 2008. Back then, after two terms of Geroge W. Bush’s post-9/11 black site prisons and “enhanced interrogation techniques,” the idea of a citizen being kidnapped and disappeared by security forces at JFK airport, was no more than a frightening possibility. But it was real enough, and no one else was writing fiction about it. There are novels about terrorist plots, but none that I’m aware of are told from the point of view of an ordinary citizen detainee. I sensed that Elli had a story that would grab a lot of people.

I urged her to hurry after Obama’s election. He promised to close Guantanamo, and put an end to Bush-era human rights abuses, so what she was describing might become yesterday’s news. I needn’t have worried. Unfortunately the existence of secret detention centers, like the one Elli created on a fictionalized Hurricane Island off the coast of Maine, is just as likely today.

I was also excited because I had a special role in the novel’s creation, beyond my usual commenting and critiquing her drafts. I’ve been obsessed with observing weather since I was a child. Elli chose to complement the political storm of human rights abuses with a physical one. The book takes place over a four-day period culminating in the anniversary of the September 11th attacks. This is the height of the hurricane season and Hurricane Island, living up to its name, is about to experience a doozy.

It was my job to make sure Elli got the hurricane right. She had many questions. How far away would the hurricane center be when the island felt the initial effects? Should the eye go just to the east or the west of the island? What would it be like before and after the eye passed? How long would it take for the storm to run its course?

Some might wonder if there could be such a powerful hurricane with a well-defined eye so far north? That part isn’t fiction. I’ll never forget the photograph we found in the Vinalhaven Historical Society Library; the spray from a wind-driven wave during the hurricane of 1938 shot 100 feet into the air, overtopping the evergreens on the oceanside shore of Hurricane Island.

Today, with evidence of climate change all around us and post-9/11 laws in place, a book that explores the twin impacts of human-enhanced natural disasters and enhanced interrogation could not be more timely. But I must admit that I’m far from an objective observer. On Hurricane Island combines three of my strongest interests: politcs, weather and Elli.

Elli and I will be traveling extensively to promote her novel. To find out when we’ll be in your area so you can join us, please click on the picture of the book jacket on top left.
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