4 stars out of 5
I'm pretty sure I read one of Clifford Irving's novels many, many years ago, although for the life of me I don't recall which one. Then, when he got embroiled in the great hoax - writing a fake autobiography of the reclusive Howard Hughes - I pretty much lost interest in the guy. Even after doing jail time, though, he never stopped writing - and from what information I can glean, he's always been pretty darned good at the craft.
As I've noted in many reviews, I belong to a number of websites that offer free and low-cost books in Kindle format. Not too long ago, I found this book, described as a "legal thriller," on sale for 99 cents (as we speak, it's going for $2.99 at Amazon). The plot sounded interesting, so I threw caution to the wind and blew my dollar on it. And what do you know? I really enjoyed reading it.
To be sure, I'd call it weird; while it describes the life of a man and woman in love - and includes a trial in which the man, an attorney, defends the woman's elderly parents in a court of law - the whole thing is woven around a place that could be likened to a communal Fountain of Youth. Set not in Florida but high in the mountains of Colorado near Aspen, the tiny town of Springhill fiercely protects a big secret: a water source that, apparently, allows them to live almost unlimited years while retaining their youthful appearance and mental and physical strengths. Along the way, their solidarity has been augmented by the passing down of a special language ("harping," for instance, means seriously discussing issues among themselves with the intent of persuading one to a different point of view).
Cool so far? Well, hear this: The townspeople's ruling committee agreed at the outset that 100 years is the limit; any person who reaches that milestone must agree to die voluntarily. Death is accomplished humanely (the ethics of euthanasia and assisted suicide aside), and all the denizens are okay with that simply because they get to live far longer than most humans and in much better shape. Everything, it seems, has remained true to plan for generations; but let's be honest: had it remained so, this book wouldn't exist.
What happened is that Sophie Henderson, one of the townspeople and a committee member, met and fell in love with Manhattan attorney Dennis Conway, who visited Aspen to ski. Dennis, who has two young children and no wife, pulls up his New York stakes, packs up the kids and moves to Springhill to be with his love. Then, a local couple and friends of Sophie's parents are found dead, and her parents are accused of helping them commit suicide. Whether right or wrong from a moral standpoint, such assistance is against the law (this book was published in 1996, BTW) and the region's law enforcement insists that they be brought to trial. Dennis, believing them to be innocent, agrees to represent Sophie's mother, "Bitsy"; her father, Scott, himself an attorney, insists on representing himself.
From this point on, my lips are sealed; suffice it to say it was hard for me to put this one down. I even kept one eye on my Kindle while I was watching the NCAA basketball tournament, and I'm thankful that I managed to finish it before the Final Four games, when two of my favorite teams - Kentucky and Duke - will take to the court and hopefully face off in the championship game.
The Spring by Clifford Irving (Simon & Schuster, August 1996); 288 pp.