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The Auctioneer

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Gripping novel of evil in a small town. Now being rediscovered.

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Reviews of The Auctioneer

Overall customer rating: 3.000
klarkash

Dark and thoughtful New England thriller

by klarkash on Jun 6, 2008

Samson's bizarre 1976 fable tries to make us believe, with intermittent success, that the inhabitants of a rural New Hampshire town could be wheedled out of their possessions, their homes, their land, and more by a smooth-talking auctioneer and his warnings of the manifold modern evils encroaching on the old ways. Perly Dunsmore arrives in Harlowe and quickly attains a position of power when he convinces the town cop that a recent wave of mysterious crimes in the otherwise peaceful town necessitates a series of auctions to raise money for modernizing the police force. What begins as a reasonable, if uneasy, transaction with the handsome, authoritative stranger slowly turns into a struggle for survival for the protagonists John Moore and his family, as newly-appointed "deputies" take their possessions, one by one, for the charity auctions. As their farm is slowly stripped, the Moores give in willingly for myriad reasons, not the least of which are the stories of mysterious accidents which begin to befall townspeople who resist the auctioneer's changes. Samson beautifully describes farm life and the nature upon which it depends, but most readers will have some trouble understanding the central characters' seeming inability to rebel in time against the outrages of the auctioneer. The members of the Moore family can seem frustratingly inert- a wider focus on the townspeople could have demonstrated how social pressures and cumulative small surrenders can result in slow disaster. The melancholy tone, lit with beautiful nature descriptions, is very effective and builds intriguingly despite the sometimes puzzling characters. The ideas about modern urban America's ignorant, capricious, and predatory taste for what it sees as the "old ways" as represented by Harlowe are fascinating and somewhat ahead of their time, even as the book exudes a distinct aura of 70's paranoia of authority abused (see countless 70's horror films where the sheriff turns out to be in cahoots with the local devil-worshippers.) This intriguing and frustrating thriller is made more so by the knowledge that it was Samson's first novel and that she died before finishing another. The Auctioneer has recently been reprinted by the excellent Millipede Press.

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