- Home ▼
- Subscribe ▼
- E-edition ▼
- Advertise ▼
- Submissions ▼
- Calendars ▼
- Business Listings ▼
- Classifieds ▼
The enduring allure of fiction writing is that, really, anything can happen. In villager and writer Robert Freeman Wexler’s new novel, “The Silverberg Business,” it does.
Set to be released by Small Beer Press on Aug. 23, with a local book launch at the Emporium on Aug. 27, the novel involves, among other things: private eyes, poker, Western swing, 19th-century Jewish colonies, catastrophic hurricanes, bar fights, interdimensional travel by land and dirigible, philosophizing cowboys, unearthly beings of colossal size, fraudulent real estate deals and a possibly sentient goat.
Wexler’s fiction has, in the past, been described — including a few times in this publication — as defying genre. “The Silverberg Business,” too, is ineffable in its way; in a recent interview with the News, Wexler described the book as “a Western…ish.”
“But it’s more of a historical noir detective novel that just happens to be set during a period you would call ‘Western,’” he said. “And it doesn’t matter — whatever people want to call it.”
The book’s focal character is the surname-only Shannon, a late-19th-century detective working with a private agency in Chicago. Shannon is hired by Rabbi Henry Cohen — one of a few actual historical figures Wexler incorporated into the narrative — to investigate the disappearance of Nathan Silverberg. The disappearance follows Silverberg’s meeting with a trio of land speculators, from whom he hoped to purchase land in coastal Texas to create a colony for Romanian Jewish refugees.
Shannon, his vocation-honed senses acute, suspects foul play.
Wexler said the creation of Shannon was partially inspired by the work of Dashiell Hammett, a former Pinkerton detective turned detective novelist most famous for the 1930 novel “The Maltese Falcon,” which was later adapted into a film noir classic. Having steeped himself in reading Hammett’s hard-nosed detectives, Wexler said his approach to writing about the people Shannon encounters marked a departure from his own past work.
“I really absorbed [Hammett’s style], so there’s a lot more description of characters than I usually write,” he said. “In some ways, I don’t care what people look like exactly, but it makes sense for Shannon — he’s a detective, an observer. … I intended it to be more straightforward.”
That straightforwardness, however, becomes increasingly brined in the uncanny — a trickle at first, and then in a swift-crashing wave — as Shannon pursues Silverberg and the suspected fraudsters. Traversing Texan vistas — familiar to Wexler, who is a Texas native — Shannon slips into an altogether unfamiliar plane, alien and wild and inhospitable to him, populated with inscrutable life. In the novel, Wexler describes the place as a “scratch land” — a phrase he borrowed from his partner Rebecca Kuder’s 2021 novel, “The Eight Mile Suspended Carnival.”
“And then a reviewer from Publishers Weekly picked up that phrase, ‘scratch land,’ and used it in the review,” Wexler said. “Which is really funny. It’s just the way [Kuder] and I work, you know — interchanging our own things.”
A stranger in a very, very strange land, Shannon makes his way to an impossible saloon, populated by “skull-heads” — that is, people whose bodies seem normally human, except that their heads are bare skulls.
One of these skull-heads graces the cover of “The Silverberg Business.” The cover art was created by Jon Langford, Welsh artist and musician with The Mekons, among several other bands. Wexler said Langford’s art served as another major influence for the novel. In particular, he drew inspiration from pieces featured in Langford’s book, “Nashville Radio,” which includes renderings of country and western musicians, sometimes depicted with skull heads.
“Pictures of these skull people intrigued me and I started thinking about them as characters,” Wexler said, adding that he asked Langford, who he has known for several years, to produce the cover art for “The Silverberg Business” before the novel was even set down on the page.
The skull-heads, seemingly trapped in an eternal cycle of drink, cards and barroom dance, are primally connected to the “business” of “The Silverberg Business.” It’s partially through the time he spends with the skull-heads, appraising their rules and rituals, that Shannon begins to understand the nature of the mystery he’s investigating — or, as much of it as is within his capacity to understand, anyway.
The unfathomable nature of Shannon’s investigation is tempered by the super-reality of his relationship to his own plane of existence — that is, America in 1888. Shannon, like Wexler himself, is Jewish. His surname is an Americanization of his family’s real name, Chanun; Shannon was originally foisted onto his forebears by “the bilge rats in charge of immigration … in New York,” though he admits that it allows him to slip into society’s crannies more easily.
“No doubt some people can see the secret marks on my forehead, but most take me as a regular American,” Shannon says. “I don’t feel like one; I doubt Jews will ever feel they belong with the regular Americans.”
Wexler said Shannon’s feeling of being the “other” perhaps makes him more perceptive to another reality of 1888: the lives of formerly enslaved Black Americans, 23 years post-emancipation. For his part, Shannon does not share the high-key racist attitudes of most white Americans in the novel.
“I wanted to make [Shannon] more progressive — there must have been progressive people, probably not most people,” Wexler said. “One thing I wanted to find out [in research for the novel] was how people were interacting at that point … and something that I … read about is Jews in the North and Jews in the South, their attitudes.”
As Shannon muses: “Living in the slave-owning South made Jews feel less exposed, less likely to be persecuted. Whatever people thought of us, they thought even less of slaves and free Negroes.”
Wexler said it’s also this insight into otherness that eventually aids Shannon in finding common ground with the skull-heads after spending unnumbered, timeless days with them in a long game of Five Card Stud.
“It’s part of his being a progressive — they can kill him easily, and maybe would if he did the wrong thing, but he accepts them as people,” Wexler said.
As he travels, with difficulty, between the no-man’s-land of skull-heads and unearthly landscapes and Texas, Shannon manages to find beauty in both places. He also finds himself as a man perpetually caught in his own, internal alternate plane: American, but Jewish; in this “scratch land,” but not of it; back in the “real” world, but made different by his surreal experiences.
What happens to literary heroes — both physically and psychologically — after they return home from fantastical worlds and events is often unexplored in fiction, but the latter portions of “The Silverberg Business,” even after its mysteries mostly resolve, keep this thematic element close to heart. Wexler likened the notion to the real-world experience of returning home from any long sojourn outside your own sphere.
“When you travel somewhere exotic, it’s really weird to come back,” he said. “It smells different, everybody looks different suddenly, different shapes and sizes. [Shannon] learned to exist in this other world.”
And Shannon must learn, again, to exist here. To paraphrase Woody Guthrie, he ain’t got a home in this world — or the other — anymore.
A book launch and signing event, “Robert Wexler in Conversation with Rebecca Kuder on ‘The Silverberg Business,’” will be held Saturday, Aug 27, beginning at 7 p.m. at the Emporium. Books will be available for sale and signing at the event, courtesy of Dark Star Books & Comics.
For more on “The Silverberg Business,” and Wexler’s other works, visit robertfreemanwexler.com.
For the sixth week in a row, Greene County is listed as having a “high” community level for COVID-19 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, according to its most recent weekly update, Thursday, Aug. 11.
The CDC continues to recommend that residents of counties listed as having a high community level for the disease wear a mask indoors in public places, stay up to date with vaccines and get tested if symptoms appear.
Greene County is among 55 other counties in the state with a high designation amid the spread of the highly contagious Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5.
While all counties in the state are listed as having medium or high community levels for the virus, the executive director of the Ohio Department of Health, Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, said last week that the latest surge appears to have “met its peak or leveled off” in Ohio.
• The latest data released Thursday, Aug. 11, by the Ohio Department of Health, or ODH, shows a second week of decreasing new case numbers in Greene County. For the week of Aug. 4–10, Greene County reported 374 new COVID-19 cases, compared to 469 the week before. The 45387 ZIP code accounted for eight of the most recent week’s new cases, compared to 18 the prior week.
• New coronavirus-related hospital admissions in Greene County numbered two for the week of Aug 4–10, compared to 11 the week before. The county reported no new COVID-19 deaths for a fourth week in a row. The county’s total number of deaths since the start of the pandemic is 519.
• Consistent with the decrease in new cases and hospitalizations, Greene County also reported another decrease in the number of new cases per 100,000 residents over a two-week period, with 436.8 as of Aug. 11, compared to 538.7 the week before. Greene County’s latest numbers put it 42nd in the state. Pike County, in southern Ohio, was at the top, with 900.2 per 100,000 residents; and Holmes County, in the east central part of the state, remained at the bottom, with 106.9. The state’s 88-county average of new cases per 100,000 residents over a two-week period dropped from 441.6, reported Aug. 4, to 436.8, reported Aug. 11.
• The statewide total of new cases for Aug. 4–10 was 26,016, compared to 27,794 for the week of July 28–Aug. 3.
• Ohio’s number of new hospitalizations also dropped, moving from 679, for July 28–Aug. 3, to 608, for Aug. 4–10. However, total COVID-19 hospitalizations across the state as of Aug. 11 were higher than the week before, rising from 1,281 to 1,318.
• The number of COVID-related deaths in the state reported Aug. 4–10 was 87, compared to 98 the week before. As of Aug. 11, the total number of coronavirus deaths in Ohio since the beginning of the pandemic was 39,220.
• Free rapid antigen tests continue to be available through the U.S. Post Office. Every household is eligible to order three sets of four at-home tests online, at http://www.covidtests.gov, or by calling toll-free at 800-232-0233.
“The great news first: the restaurant is changing hands and will continue as a vegan establishment. The good news is that the Black Barn Veganry ice cream will still be available,” Veganry owner Jayne Brahler wrote in a recent email to the News.
While many villagers who enjoyed the Veganry’s menu options may be disappointed by the announcement, Brahler is hoping that the community will embrace the site’s new owners, villagers Angie Hsu, Matan Mazursky and Kumar Jensen.
“I am sure many of you know Angie, Matan and Jensen and will agree — they are a perfect match,” Brahler wrote.
In an email to the News, the new owners expressed excitement for their new venture, which is not yet named.
“We look forward to joining the small business community in Yellow Springs. Clearly, not only do the people want it, but our environment needs it,” they wrote. “We are thrilled for this new opportunity, one that has captured our hearts and minds and imaginations very quickly. We are passionate about the power of food as a vehicle for storytelling and sharing, as exploration of identity and community, and as a force for bringing people together. Jayne has forged a new path for plant-based food in Yellow Springs and in the region, and we are excited to continue that journey.”
Brahler told the News that during the time since she opened the Veganry — one of the few entirely vegan restaurants in the area — people came from all over the region, including Cincinnati and Columbus.
According to Brahler, one of the reasons she decided to sell the restaurant goes against the grain of current restaurant industry economic trends. During a time when many restaurants are struggling to remain open, Brahler had the opposite dilemma — high demand. The Veganry, which opened its doors on Jan. 1, was a labor of love and “immediately took off like wildfire,” Brahler wrote.
Brahler, 69, a former professor who recently retired from the University of Dayton, conceded that, despite her love of running the restaurant, time has caught up with her.
“I will miss that experience. But let’s face it, I’m no spring chicken, and the additional time that was required of me on the days we were not open became too much. So, I decided to focus back on my ice cream and desserts, and have someone else do the food,” she wrote.
Brahler said that before deciding to sell the restaurant to Hsu, Mazursky and Jensen, she received several offers from people outside of Yellow Springs, but turned them down, because it just didn’t feel right.
“Those parties, however, planted the seed in my mind that I could sell if I felt a need, or desire to do so,” she wrote.
Brahler, who continues to have mixed emotions about selling her beloved restaurant, finally determined she needed to do so to preserve her health and to focus on family needs more fully.
“I contacted some friends who are Yellow Springs residents to see if they might be interested in running a vegan restaurant and it was a perfect match,” she wrote.
While the new owners decided not to purchase Brahler’s food menu, her popular vegan ice cream will be offered in the yet-to-be-named new restaurant when it opens. The owners plan to open in early 2023, and will announce a “more precise” opening date at the end of the year.
“We are excited to keep the community updated as we get closer to the restaurant’s launch,” they wrote.
In the meantime, people can still purchase Brahler’s treats. She plans to maintain some limited hours until the new restaurant opens, and people can purchase ice cream through the end of the year. Hours will be announced on the Black Barn Veganry’s Facebook page.
The News will update the community as more details about the restaurant become available.
Preliminary results of the Tuesday, Aug. 2, special primary election are now available. The election was scheduled for August following the initial May primary due to ongoing legal disputes over the redrawing of Ohio district voting maps.
Winners of Tuesday’s primary will be added to the Nov. 8 general election day ballot. That election will use the same district maps implemented for the May 3 primary, which were ultimately struck down last month by the Ohio State Supreme Court as being in violation of the state’s constitutional anti-gerrymandering rules.
Of the 119,408 registered voters in Greene County, 10,285 cast their votes — less than 9% of eligible voters, and less than half of the 25% who voted in the initial May primary. The party breakdown was: 7,554 Republicans, 2,704 Democrats and 27 nonpartisans.
Individual precinct results were not available at press time.
State Central Committee
Voters in the 10th district elected two members of the Democratic and Republican parties, one man and one woman as stipulated by state law, to represent the district on the Democratic and Republican Ohio State Central Committees. There were no available slots for people who are gender nonconforming or who identify as nonbinary. Members of the Ohio State Central Committee are elected to four-year terms. The newly elected members are:
• David M. Farrell (D)
• Steve Austria (R)
• Sarah Freemantle (D)
• Laura A. Rosenberger (R)
Ohio State Representative
One state representative, either a Democrat or Republican, must live in the district that they represent, and is elected every two years. Voters will choose one of the following candidates to represent the 71st district in the state senate in November:
• James Harvey Duffee (D)
• Bill Dean (R, incumbent)
The Yellow Springs Development Corporation, or YSDC, originally established as a quasi-government organization charged with improving economic development prospects for the village and the township, has been engaged in a months-long visioning process that will determine the future direction of the organization.
At the July 5 YSDC meeting, President Corrie Van Ausdal welcomed village resident Jay Rothman, who had reached out to her after reading about the group’s visioning work and offered to share information about a database and methodology he had developed that he thought could assist in their process. The methodology is called “Action in Evaluation” and “RSV3.” Rothman proposed that YS Development Corporation use an updated version of the system.
“YSDC can compile a living database for the community which can be used to inform strategic planning and visioning for the organizations which comprise YSDC and align organizations within the Yellow Springs system on goals which support the shared vision,” he said.
One of the hallmarks of the database is that it is participatory and serves as a tool for community action. Rothman said the database was created with Yellow Springs in mind.
“It’s constituted by what I understand Yellow Springs and Antioch to be, and some of the phrases that sort of summarize it I want to underscore. The first one is participatory. Everyone, everyone has the opportunity to say, this is what I care about and this is why,” he said.
After living in Jerusalem for six years, he returned to the village in 2014, but Rothman grew up in the village. He is a former professor at Antioch College and the now closed McGregor School of Antioch University.
Rothman is a practitioner of conflict engagement. In 1998, he established his company, ARIA Group, as a way to “engage conflict creatively.” The system was built through funds received from a $1 million grant awarded in 1992. It has seen a few updates over the years, the last one being in 2007, and another would be necessary for the proposed YSDC process.
“It’s almost dead, so I can’t really run the process anymore. I believe we can probably rebuild it for $10-15,000, and then it can be off and running,” he said.
One of the highlights of the database is that it is designed to “gather complex, qualitative data and organize it in very systemic, relatively simple ways,” Rothman said.
According to Rothman, he doesn’t want to be the one that runs the program anymore. “I want to support others who do it,” he said. Instead, he’s offering his time, one day a week for 12 months, or about 50 days in a supportive role to the YSDC. According to Rothman, ARIA would retain ownership and financial proprietorship over its intellectual property.
“But [we] would grant YSDC an unlimited license to all software and new intellectual property that are created for and from this project,” he said.
Rothman’s original database, along with the methodology he developed was the anchoring tool that led to an extensive, federal court mandated $15 million police restructuring within the Cincinnati Police Department in the early 2000s. His company was retained by a federal court judge after a police officer shot and killed an unarmed 19-year-old Black man. The murder of Timothy Thomas led to several days of violent unrest in the city’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood.
Rothman guided 3500 members of the community through a data collection process that produced 10,000 qualitative records that were further reduced to five goals the department used to implement reforms.
“The project was lauded as one of the most important police reform projects in the country. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been replicated, but the methodology itself has been used around the world with hundreds of projects, thousands of participants,” Rothman said.
Rothman has utilized the process locally for Tecumseh Land Trust. “I did a visioning and planning process for Tecumseh Land Trust. They are probably one of five [nonprofit] organizations that work on environmental development, organizations that could be a cluster,” he said.
In his presentation, Rothman then offered an example of how environmental organizations with similar or shared goals and visions could become an empowered network in the community through a YSDC governed database.
“Each organization within that cluster would ask, ‘What are our purposes, what are our values, what are our visions?’ Each of them would be a more powerful, coherent, organized organization. Once they are internally organized, collaborating and coordinating [with each other] is much easier,” Rothman said.
Van Ausdal told YSDC members that she thought it could be useful for the village.
“I think that this would be a powerful tool for us to do for ourselves, but even more importantly to then be able to create this entire database by doing this same process with our member organizations, with the Township, with the Village, with the schools, with Clifton, with the Chamber,” she said.
According to Van Ausdal, the process could result in the creation of a database that Yellow Springs could use as a living tool.
At the Aug. 2 YSDC meeting, members approved a “contract with ARIA Group for $1 to run a pilot of the collaborative visioning and planning methodology to assess its potential four use in the greater community.”
A workshop to run the pilot is scheduled for Aug. 28. Details about the pilot will appear in a future News article.