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Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Trespasser

Edra Ziesk’s The Trespasser is a story about respecting boundaries and what happens when Sebastian Bryant, a New York photographer, inadvertently triggers a tragic chain-of-events in a remote Kentucky town by failing to understand just how serious one old man is about keeping strangers off his property.

By the time he stumbles upon the striking little Appalachian mountain cabin, Bryant has already driven across much of America taking pictures for his next book. Now, though he is fighting excessive heat and failing light, Bryant offers fifty dollars to the young couple living there to stand on the cabin porch with their baby while he photographs the scene. As he prepares his cameras, Bryant is confronted by the property owner, Hesketh Day, a man suffering from dementia, and while the two men talk about what Bryant is doing on Day property, it becomes too dark to take any photos.

Bryant underestimates the level of Hesketh Day’s opposition to his presence and returns to the cabin the next morning where Day even more angrily disputes his right to be there. This time, though, Day is armed and Bryant’s final misjudgment is a fatal one. Bryant, as it turns out, is not the only clumsy trespasser in the town and the remainder of The Trespasser explores how one relatively innocent act leads to a disturbing blurring of physical and emotional boundaries that makes the town’s return to its old rhythms and routines near impossible.

Sylvie Pomfret sees nothing wrong with moving into Hesketh Day’s big house while Day is locked up. After all, the now empty house has an indoor toilet, a washer, and a telephone, three things missing from the little cabin that the Pomfrets rented from Day before the shooting. Mattie Wheeler, Day’s cousin, does not see it that way and her outrage at the audacity of Sylvie’s move leads to a physical confrontation between the two and a formal complaint to the local sheriff.

Other boundaries, some obvious and others less so, are crossed when one local attorney becomes so infatuated with Sylvie that he forgets she has a husband, when Sylvie and her baby appear unannounced at her sister’s door with no place else to go, or when Sylvie’s husband does the same to his sister and resentful brother-in-law in Ohio. Even Mattie Wheeler, always quick to accuse others of crossing lines, is not above using her status as a longtime area school teacher to squeeze special favors from the sheriff and a local attorney, both former students of hers.

Sebastian Bryant came to eastern Kentucky looking for photographs and stumbled into a closed little community whose code of behavior he would never understand. What happened to him rippled through the town in ways that would change other lives forever, sometimes for the good, and sometimes not. Edra Ziesk, in The Trespasser, has replicated a little piece of the hills of Kentucky and filled it with a cast of very real characters, with not a hero among them.

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