From the ISLIP BULLETIN : April 11, 2019
Shipwreck of Hopes
Local Author, Angela Reich, speaks about her first book
Story By: ANTHONY PERROTTA
A local author is scheduled to discuss the inspiration and research of her first book, “Shipwreck of Hopes,” throughout the coming week.
Angela Reich recalled her childhood in East Rockaway—lying on her bed, reading on those hot summer afternoons and being “swept away into places and experiences” that opened up her world. “Since then, I always wanted to write fiction, but it was my work at the Fire Island Lighthouse that exposed me to this phenomenal shipwreck story,” she said, referring to the wreck of the Elizabethoff Fire Island in 1850.
Reich became a docent at the famous lighthouse shortly before retiring, in 2014, from the Syosset School District, where she taught high school English.
The Brightwaters resident said the lighthouse was an “immediate draw” because it pulled together everything she is passionate about: research and writing, Long Island history and the “magic of the seashore.” Reich added that while she is officially retired from teaching, she is still a teacher. “There’s nothing more fulfilling than to turn people on to knowledge that can light up their interest and excitement… and that’s what I get to do as a docent,” she said. “So, in a sense, I am still teaching.”
Reich explained that the inspiration for her book, which was published in September, came in her early days as a docent while researching the Elizabeth, which slammed into a sandbar less than 100 yards from Fire Island on July 19, 1850.
“The process started with research on the local history: the towns, the people, their livelihoods, and their involvement in the aftermath of the wreck,” Reich said. “Then there was the question of the Elizabeth’s famous passenger, Margaret Fuller, which opened up another whole biographical study of her life, and why she was on that ship returning from Europe at the time.”
Reich said “Shipwreck of Hopes,” a work of historical fiction, was five years in the making. “I am a big fan of historical fiction… if the research is meticulous,” she said. “It’s a great way to learn about people, places and times gone by in an entertaining way.”
Reich was first turned on to historical fiction by her college history professor at St. Joseph’s College. They were teaching a course in World War II and recommended the class read Herman Wouk’s “The Winds of War” and its sequel, “War and Remembrance.” “My interest in and respect for the genre started there,” Reich said.
Fuller, the Elizabeth’sfamous passenger, worked for a number of prominent publications at the time, including The Dialand The New-York Tribune.Reich first heard of Fuller during her Ph.D. studies at Stony Brook University. “However, I had not delved into her life until my research for the novel,” Reich said.
Reich describes the journalist and women’s rights advocate as a “groundbreaker.”
“She was remarkable,” Reich said, noting her admiration for Fuller’s personal commitment to becoming a voice for those who had none. “[Fuller] worked to abolish slavery, [improve] conditions for those incarcerated in jails and asylums, and advocated for higher education and voting rights for women. And she did all this while facing a very challenging personal life.”
In her time, Fuller was known for her bad temper and being – what some considered – overly self-confident. The Massachusetts native is also regarded as the inspiration for Hester Prynne, the main character in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic novel, “The Scarlet Letter,” published in 1850.
Fuller was traveling onboard the ill-fated ship from Rome with her husband, Giovanni Angelo Ossoli, an Italian revolutionary, and their son, Angelino. Fuller’s and Ossoli’s bodies were never recovered, but their son’s was. He is buried under a cenotaph to his parents in Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Mass.
“I wanted people to know who [Fuller] was as a human being,” Reich said. “This story has allowed me to do that.” She also plans to write a sequel to her first novel.
Reich will first speak about her book on Saturday, April 13 at the Bay Shore-Brightwaters Public Library at 2 p.m. Reich’s next stop on Wednesday, April 17 is the West Islip Public Library at 7 p.m. A question-and-answer session and book signing will follow both speeches.
“Shipwreck of Hopes” is available on Amazon.com.
From Fire Island News. Book Review.
From THE LIST MAGAZINE, July/August 2019
From the Fire Island Tide July 19, 2019
From Boating World Magazine July 2019
Conversations: The Newsletter of the Margaret Fuller Society
Book Review Shipwreck of Hopes
Angela Reich Amazon, 2018, 312 pp.
A small map of Fire Island circa 1850 rests at the end of Angela Reich’s debut novel, Shipwreck of Hopes. Rendered by hand, the map’s thin lines carefully trace Long Island and its surrounding waters. Compared to the solidity of Babylon, Islip, and Patchogue to the north, on the map Fire Island looks like a slim, vulnerable branch floating between the Atlantic Ocean and the Great South Bay. Dots along this branch mark locations central to Reich’s novel: the original Fire Island light, an inn, the home of the Oaks, and the site where the Elizabeth ran into a sandbar. Given the intensity of the novel’s final chapters, the map offers a poignant, almost settled coda to a dynamic story that toggles between two continents, two families, and the fortunes of two women whose lives tragically intersect off the coast of this small barrier island.
Reich’s narrator takes on this theme of entwined fates early in the novel, asking, “Look, who’s to say how past and present intermingle? Who’s to say what shapes our future? Who’s to say how our minds present dreams, feelings, thoughts. Isn’t it all one, then? Time, memory, action? Isn’t it all of a piece? Our lives lived on the edge, the threshold of worlds colliding” (5). As Shipwreck of Hopes unfolds, Reich trains these questions on the lives of Margaret Fuller and Hannah Oaks, as well as the landscapes and relationships surrounding them. In Reich’s hands, we come to know Hannah and Fuller as characters connected to networks of family, friends, and associates that place each of these two women in their complex, mid-nineteenth century milieu. With the exception of chapters in places such as Ohio and West Virginia, Reich primarily splits the novel’s chapters between Fire Island and Italy, eventually closing the novel in America. Reich, a self-described “beach lover,” “history buff,” and “lifelong resident of Long Island,” clearly knows Fire Island, from the history of its indigenous people to its shifting coastlines. On the eastern shore of the U.S., small, bustling towns with astute shopkeepers stand in contrast to dunes, sparse grasses and few neighbors. Fire Island’s limitless sea and sky greet Reich’s readers. In Rome, Reich describes the “movement and color beneath [Fuller’s] windows,” as well as Fuller’s encounters with art and architecture (57).
By the time Fuller and Oaks’ destines touch near the shores of Long Island, however, Reich has added layers to these settings. Hannah’s beloved landscape holds painful memories of past trauma, as well as present ones. In a vivid scene after French troops overtake Rome, Reich writes,
By midday, the streets were a scene of chaos…Those with horses and carriages careened down the city’s thoroughfares, barely missing pedestrians. Others pushed what was left of their households in hand carts, the tops covered with canvas. Yet others walked, and the wounded were pushed in wheelbarrows. All who were part of the revolutionary forces ran for their lives (216). The sense of lives in tumult, whether in Hannah’s abusive marriage or in political upheaval, runs through Reich’s novel.
Hannah and Fuller provide Shipwreck of Hopes its gravitational pull, even though the novel has multiple subplots and viewpoint characters. It is impossible not to wonder what might have been had Fuller and her young family survived, or somehow avoided, the shipwreck of the Elizabeth. This wondering about Fuller’s past and possible future forms part of the novel’s subtext. The work of historical (re)imagining central to Shipwreck of Hopes depends on such inquiry. At the same time, it is notable that Reich makes readers care just as much about Hannah’s fate as Fuller’s. Hannah isn’t on the Elizabeth, but she bears witness to the shipwreck from the home she shares with her abusive husband. Despite Hannah’s dangerous situation, Reich depicts her character as one of those many souls across time, with their unrecorded stories, who reads as remarkable in their sphere: “Then, in the quiet evening, she’d use a charred stick from the fire and scraps of paper… She’d create, contouring, with changes of pressure or motion, her fingers playing, coaxing the scene from the crude instrument… In this, her vision, expression, complete” (5). Given the violence and assault Hannah suffers from the book’s early pages, these moments of quiet, private creation provide Hannah, and Reich’s readers, welcome reprieve. They also reveal Hannah’s interiority, containing the seeds not only of her character, but also her art and her personal (r)evolution. Hannah isn’t an intellectual in Fuller’s vein, nor does she need to be. She is, however, a caring, soulful character with a doggedness and inner world to match Fuller’s.
When it comes to Fuller, Reich delivers her readers into the arms of the Italian Revolution and Giovanni and Margaret’s embraces. Reich’s research and passion for history come keenly through in these sections, as does her appreciation of Fuller’s dispatches to the New York Daily Tribune and the work of biographers like Megan Marshall. At the same time, Reich has rightfully imagined Fuller on her own terms. Reich gets into Fuller’s mind, body and soul. During Fuller’s visit to St. Peter’s Basilica during Holy Week, Reich describes “the folds of [Fuller’s] green taffeta skirts” as they “swept the geometric pattern of the Basilica’s marble floor from side to side” (65). Looking around, a wide-eyed Margaret exclaims,
“There is too much! Too much! For all my senses increase” (65). Moments later Fuller, “[now], enchanted, dazzled… progressed alone along the nave as if drawn by an unseen force toward the central altar” (65).
This kind of spirited detail, which brings readers to the very hem of Fuller’s skirts, is part of what makes Reich’s sections in Italy a particular pleasure to read. The writing in these passages brims with Fuller’s expanding life and experience. The exploration of Fuller’s first meeting with Giovanni Ossoli provides another example. There is not even a hint of bodice ripping in Shipwreck of Hopes, yet early encounters between these future lovers smolder. After Fuller’s enchantment at the Basilica, Reich describes Ossoli “in the shadow of a pillar,” where he “leaned against the cold marble, observing” Margaret for the first time (68). Moments later, “Margaret took him in as they strolled easily toward her rooms. He was youthful, tall and slender. Athletic” (68). Reich’s attention to bodies, to gazes, lends such passages an almost erotic charge.
Men play an important role in Shipwreck of Hopes, even as the novel focuses on Fuller and Hannah, on their lives as women, creators, wives, and mothers. Hannah’s scurrilous husband, Smith Oaks, a local guide seemingly without scruples, is a challenging character. Smith’s behavior throughout the novel smothers any empathy roused by details of his past. The good news about Oaks: he stirs the pot of any scene he’s in and he lends counterpoint to the novel’s other characters, who can appear almost angelic compared to this loveless man. I read Smith Oaks as an old school villain straight down to his boots. His dastardly deeds (trust me, dastardly doesn’t feel like an overstatement) can make him seem cut from melodrama, but these deeds are also part of what makes for an interesting read. More nuanced male characters are Oaks’ younger brother, Giovanni, the crew of the Elizabeth, and Fuller’s father, whose demanding love haunts Margaret to nearly her last breath.
Reich does not shy away from Fuller’s death on the Elizabeth. She stays with Fuller, and I could imagine writing the passages leading up to this moment as taking an emotional toll. As I recently described these scenes, split between the frenzy on the shore of Fire Island and the frenzy on the Elizabeth, to a friend, he mentioned how striking it must have been to read across these points of view. To be with Margaret, Giovanni, and their baby Angelino on the deck of the Elizabeth and also with the Long Island locals, who “came with carts and wagons,” waiting to “swim their horses across” so they could reap the ship’s riches (265). Of course my friend was right, and it is one of the wonders of narrative distance: to see within and around multiple, often conflicting, points of view. Even though Reich shows readers these multiple sides, it seems to me that Hannah’s point of view is like the moral eye of the storm. She is one who can truly understand, from experience and on an emotional level, the meaning of this loss. Reich, as someone who has put down roots in this setting can and has also imagined, as in the heading of one chapter, the Elizabeth’s “aftermath.” How fitting, then, that Reich concludes her novel with a sure and simple map of the landscape that bore witness to such reckoning.
Adrienne Perry is an Assistant Professor of English and Creative Writing at Villanova University. From 2014–2016 she served as the Editor of Gulf Coast: A Journal of Literature and Fine Arts. A Hedgebrook alumna, she is also a Kimbilio Fellow and a member of the Rabble Collective. Adrienne’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Copper Nickel, Black Warrior Review, Indiana Review, Ninth Letter, and elsewhere.