Below is an essay I wrote for a book entitled The Jordan Kinship (1993, University Press of New England) that consists of two previously published novels that would become part of what is now The Darby Chronicles.
Our New England forest is messy and crowded, just like the Jordan shacks. I postulated a connection between landscape and people who by necessity live close to the earth. Maybe so, but since driving across the United States a number of times, I've been amazed to find Jordan shacks all over the country. I am now convinced that a libido for shack-living is based more in culture than in topography. If you're looking for it, the presence of Shack People is blatantly obvious on the back roads of Northern New England, the South, Appalachia, Texas, Eastern New Mexico and Southern California, less so in southern New England, the Middle-Atlantic states and the Mid-West, although you'll find them in isolated pockets such as the Pine Barrens of New Jersey; I'm not sure about Florida, the Rocky Mountain states and the Northwest, because I have not visited those areas.
What the motorist sees of the Shack People from the road is disheveled housing, dogs in the yard, an in-bred look to the people; get a little closer and you notice bad teeth, a sloppy appearance and inattention to personal hygiene; know them better and you learn they distrust authority outside their clans and possess a contemptuous attitude toward education, success, law and indeed toward what most of us call our values. You also realize they're no smarter or stupider than anybody else. They just have a different set of priorities.
What fascinated me about the Shack People when I was growing up among them in the late 1950s was that they lived by their own rules. It didn't matter what the rest of us were wearing (dungarees rolled up at the cuff) or what music we were listening to (Elvis and "You Ain't Nothing but a Hound Dog") or what ideas were fashionable (bomb shelters in case of an atomic attack), the Shack People were totally oblivious to us fiction. Hence, real Keene became fictional Tuckerman in Whisper My Name, The Passion of Estelle Jordan and Live Free or Die. In retrospect, I can see that this action was unnecessary. and our fancies. I can't remember exactly when, but I started to view the Shack People as a sort of anthropological project in my backyard. Perhaps by studying these strange peoples I might gain some insight into my own nature and into human nature in general. Not that I actually studied the Shack People. This is all in retrospect. I took a few mental notes-and forgot. It was only when I started to write fiction about the Jordans that the ideas about the Shack People that had been there all along began to surface. (It's this awakening from the distracting dream of what we want to see to the reality before our eyes that is the value of writing fiction as well as reading it. A writer gains the same insight into the world through the process of creating a work of fiction as the reader gains through the effort of reading it.)
The Shack People are the most despised and least understood of Americans, because, I believe, we in the mainstream define ourselves in opposition to them. Good teeth, clean bodies, tidy houses, spacious lawns and specious virtues are not only traits of the American character, they're national fetishes. In some communities, local legislative bodies actually require homeowners to maintain properties according to community standards of appearance. Good learning and good manners might aid one's advancement in American society, but good teeth, a clean body and passable stylishness are requirements. At this writing, we fishes in the mainstream are wearing wild ties, listening to rap music and debating multiculturalism. The Shack People are unchanged, still oblivious to us and our "new" ideas.
My departure point in writing about the Jordans was simple enough. I don't believe there is much difference in the intelligence or emotional range of people the world over. It is how individuals assign the intelligence and emotions that make the difference. Thus, a young man from the suburbs might build a rocket for a science class in high school and that might lead to a career in engineering. An equally talented young man brought up in a shack, such as Donald Jordan, might work on his car, which in Donald's case leads to his own junk car business. I know such a man in Keene. I asked him how he catalogued hundreds of derelict cars sprawled across his hundred acres of now-defunct farmland, not to mention thousands of parts in his warehouse. He tapped his temple and said, "Computer."
Ollie Jordan, the protagonist in A Little More Than Kin, is derived from a man who lived in my neighborhood in Keene. He was tall, gaunt, with rotted teeth, eyes like a starved hound, a face in perpetual five o'clock shadow. He wore a felt hat set at a rakish angle and the same rumpled suit in all seasons, but no tie and sometimes not even a shirt. He walked with a stiff gait, his hands gripping the bottom of his jacket cuffs. To some people, this man might have seemed a laughable figure, a bum left over from the Depression of the 1930s, a loser. In fact he was the leader of his clan, a man who had a great deal of prestige among his own kind. The day-to-day world of American society simply did not exist for him, because he was so busy trying to get ahead in his own world, searching for ascendancy within the clan, supplying succor when he could; surrendering his ascendancy and seeking succor when he had to. This dance of mind and body in the world of things (a bottle of liquor), phenomena (winter weather) and abstractions (economics) is very common for many of us, but with luck our obsession flows nicely into the mainstream of society. For the leader of the clan, the man I would call Ollie Jordan, there was no such confluence.
I was mulling over these matters one March day while I was making a cup of coffee on a small piece of woodland I owned in the town of Westmoreland, New Hampshire. I'd built my fire on a flat stone. While the air where I sat was still, I could hear the wind clacking in the trees above. The stone became the altar stone in A Little More Than Kin, and Ollie Jordan, in his mad love for a mad son, became a tragic figure.
The origins of Willow Jordan and Estelle, the Jordan Witch, are a little more complicated, and require more story-telling. Besides driving a taxi in my college days, I worked for a summer as a laundryman at what was then called Elliot Community Hospital in Keene. My partner was a slightly retarded young man about twenty years old. He had fiery red hair, big muscles and a touchy temperament. Once, he took offense to something I said or did (I have no idea what) and stuffed me into an industrial-sized washing machine. I escaped.
Most of the time, though. Red and I got along pretty well. Dirty laundry dropped down a chute from the first, second and third stories into our domain in the building's basement, where the foundation of huge stones lay exposed and the heating pipes were wrapped with asbestos insulation. Red and I would load the dirty sheets, towels, pillow cases, Johnny gowns, surgical outfits and nurse coveralls into a cart. The main rule was always look before you reach. I saw and touched all that is within a human being, things warm, gooey and suddenly smelly. We emptied the laundry into the washers, and after it was washed and spun cool, we shoved the load into dryers as big as the interior of the Dodge Colt I currently drive.
We tossed the clean, dry bedding and clothes into a cart and wheeled it to a table. Here three women took over. They sorted, folded and put away the clean laundry. The women, in their fifties, were losers in the sweepstakes of American life. They'd had the wrong parents, the wrong up-bringing, the wrong education, the wrong mates, the wrong gods, and no luck.
The women never paid me any attention. I was just a snot-nosed college kid, with no meaning to their lives. Not that made any attempts to break the ice; I was content to maintain the psychic gulf between us. Red, however, had access to the women. They liked to scold him, treating him like an outsized child. He seemed merely to want to be in their presence. Occasionally, on our breaks, when he was in a certain wistful mood. Red would stroke the long gray-black hair of one of the women. He was like any friendless child petting a cat. The woman would go on with her work as if she did not notice, until finally she'd grow bored with Red and cuff him on the side of the head, and he would stop.
Years later I saw Red driving a trash collection truck. He'd grown larger and more powerful, but he looked worried, angry, abused. Red's tragedy was that he was just smart enough to realize he wasn't smart enough. He, combined with my felonious schoolmate. Big Ed, became Willow Jordan in A Little More Than Kin. Two of the laundrywomen were so nondescript that today I have no clear memory of their appearance or personalities. But the third, the one who allowed Red to touch her hair, is very clear in my mind. At around five-foot eight, she was taller than the other two. She was a little stooped, but she had good bones and as a young woman she must have been magnificent. Her skin was pale, her eyes dark and intelligent; the cast of her look was distant, haunted. She had fine features, but she never wore lipstick or makeup of any kind. What was memorable about her was her hair, black, streaked with gray, hanging almost to her waist. You could tell that she washed and combed it out every day. What stayed with me about the tall laundry folder was that her pride as a person and as a woman was in her hair.
Around this same time, in the world outside the hospital laundry, I took note of another woman. She was in her forties, very attractive. She had bleached blond hair, a fantastic build and she always wore a lot of makeup. I would see this woman at night around town in the company of an older man. A month or so would go by and I would see her again with another man. I fantasized that she was a high-priced hooker, a sort of angel of death who would ferry these old guys into the next world on a bier of carnal ecstasy.
One night I was in the lounge of the Crystal Restaurant in Keene (renamed the Chrysalis Restaurant in the Darby novels to honor my love of monarch butterflies), when the blond came in with yet another septuagenarian. For the first time, I heard her voice. She spoke in a strong, coarse version of the Yankee accent. She was in charge and spankingly sarcastic.
In A Little More Than Kin, I created Estelle Jordan; it wasn't until I wrote the last line in the book that I had the first inkling of Estelle's dualistic nature. One part of her was like that bleached blond-attractive, assertive, selfish, coarse. This was the face she showed to the world-the face of the Witch. But deep inside was another self, vulnerable and sensitive. The secret self had a secret name, which the Witch did not reveal but contemplated when she brushed her long, gray-black hair. This was the Dear Self. At some point, the Dear Self took control of the personality and contemplated the Witch. It was my perception of these two selves, in conflict, seeking integration, that set in motion the writing of The Passion of Estelle Jordan.
The Class System of Darby
When I was starting to write about the Jordans I noticed that there were very few comparable characters in the fiction I was reading. Almost all the books I read were about people from suburbs and cities. When country people were portrayed, the main characters often held the same values as suburban or city people, while the subservient characters, the hicks of the Sticks, were patronized and condescended to. Shack People, if they were portrayed at all, often came off as unreal. For example, even a good writer such as James Dickey writing a good book, Deliverance, reduced Shack People to the level of subhumans with not a whisper of complaint from critics or public. When I started the Darby series I wasn't interested in maintaining the stereotypes of frugal Yankees and cracker barrel philosophers who said, "Pahk the cah" and "Ayup." I strived to portray the townspeople as I believed them truly to be. I also deliberately put the emphasis on the neglected classes, what today would be called rural underclass and rural working class. I felt little obligation to highlight the middle classes, since other New England writers such as John Updike, John Cheever and Ann Beattie have written about suburban-type New Englanders extensively and well.
The idea of class is fuzzy in the American mind in part because of the poverty of our language. The class groupings we learn in Sociology I0I-upper, upper middle, middle middle, lower middle, working, and lower-tell us little about the classes or about ourselves and have misled us into preserving the American myth that money alone makes for class status. There's some truth to this, but it must be obvious to anyone who looks carefully at rich and poor, black and white, owners and renters that American class structures are shaped by clan, culture and a multitude of other factors, as well as by economics. (For a scholarly rendering of this situation, I recommend David Hackett Fischer's extraordinary cultural history, Albion's Seed.)
Within rural New England are a number of distinct social classes with which I've populated Darby. They include, from the most to least: Locals, Commuters, Shack People, Farmers, and Gentry. One way to differentiate among these groups is to report their attitudes around a single issue. For this essay, I've chosen zoning as the issue, because it touches upon matters in the Darby books and because it remains important to people who live rural in New England. I will describe how each group functions in Darby and discuss the characters from the novels who fit into these groups and then present the group's attitudes toward zoning.
LOCALS: Locals can include teachers, lawyers and other professional people, but the soul of this class is in those who work with their hands-loggers, housewives, sawmill operators, factory workers, waitresses, truck drivers, mechanics, leftover back-to-the-landers and people in the trades, such as carpenters, plumbers, masons and electricians. Some scrape out a living from the town, but many commute to jobs outside of Darby. Locals are distinguished from Commuters by their frame of reference: Locals view the world in local terms. They're regulars at town meetings, and organizers of sugar-on-snow parties, quilting bees, snowmobile clubs and other strictly local activities. They have a sense of history, an old-fashioned conservatism not exactly in line with modern, slash-and-burn conservative ideology; they're conservative in the sense that they are cautious, fatalistic, thrifty and often oriented toward the past as expressed by an interest in, say, collecting old tools or growing wild rose bushes. They like machines and gadgets, because their basic understanding of the universe is Newtonian. Dot McCurtin, the high-tech town gossip of Darby (a very valuable person in a small community) is a classic Local. Another is town constable Godfrey Perkins. So is Old Man Dorne.
Despite their Shack People roots, Howard Elman and his wife Elenore are Locals. In The Dogs of March I imagined the Elmans and the Jordans as having similar backgrounds. The difference is that Howard and Elenore are foster children who don't really know where they come from. In a way, they embody the American ideal in that they are freed from the driving forces of heritage and the confinements of kinship. Clan, culture and class mean little to the Elmans, because they've lost their racial, ethnic and cultural memories. Like thirsty wanderers of the desert, they've stumbled into their current class. Locals.
A person doesn't have to be born into Darby to fit the social category of Local. It's attitude and orientation toward local matters that defines a Local. An example of a newcomer who has adopted local ways and been accepted by other Locals is Joe Ancharsky, the storekeeper. Joe is from Hazelton, Pennsylvania. He's based on a type I've seen all over New England. They're, say, auto workers from Michigan or mechanics from New Jersey or coal miners from Pennsylvania, who have a dream to own a country store. After decades of hard work, in their forties and fifties, they finally get the wherewithal to sink their savings into the dream. The newcomers of this breed are very important to New England villages, because they make a financial investment in the community and because they fall in quickly and naturally behind local traditions.
Locals define their group identity through community. The current zoning set-up, whatever it is, goes a long way toward establishing what specifically constitutes the community. Therefore, Locals are usually against changes in zoning of any kind. The poorer Locals are afraid that Commuters will squeeze them out using zoning law as the primary tool. The wealthier Locals are opposed to zoning on the general principle that change is likely to be bad for the town and because they oppose anything the Commuters favor.
COMMUTERS: This is my designation for the middle class, the people who seek to live a suburban life in the country. Commuters can work in any of the occupations of Locals, but the leadership of this group is usually found among professionals, doctors, lawyers, managers, teachers. Most Commuters are newcomers to the community, but not necessarily. Some natives become Commuters when they lose their sense of orientation to the historical town. Commuters have little interest in town matters; their concerns are their children and themselves, concerns expressed in a passion for good schools, town planning and districts zoned to give them privacy. Some are the rural equivalent of Yuppies. They have little sense of or respect for the traditions of the town, and they believe themselves superior to just about everybody. Commuters get themselves onto planning boards and school boards and conservation commissions. Commuters might be conservative or liberal in their political philosophies, but in their relationship to Darby they're liberals in the sense that they're predisposed toward changing the town.
Through the medium of zoning changes, Commuters have already transformed many New England towns into the equivalent of rural suburbs. I used to think that this process was inevitable, but I've noticed a trend in the years following the first couple of Darby books, which is that many Commuters instead of changing the towns have been changed by the towns. Some have become Locals. A war is on between Locals and Commuters for the soul of the Northern New England town, and it's too early to predict the outcome.
SHACK PEOPLE: Not all rural poor folk are Shack People. Many of the poor are neat and tidy; many seek to improve their lot in life; some are even educated with a reverence for learning, personal hygiene and subject-verb agreement. In my class system, such people might be poor Locals or poor Commuters. What marks Shack People is less their economic status than their cultural attitudes. Indeed, some Shack People get rich, buy big houses and turn them into shacks. Critter and Delphina Jordan, who appear in The Passion of Estelle Jordan, serve as examples.
Shack people don't actually have an attitude about zoning; to them zoning belongs to that nether world of the society they ignore, but they achieve de facto zoning by their slovenly habits: nobody wants to live near them.
FARMERS: Most of the farmers I've known I met in my work as a reporter for The Keene Sentinel newspaper. I found farmers to be well-rounded, well-informed, ironic, intelligent and interesting. I have to laugh at suburban and city people who use the word "farmer" as a slur to indicate an uneducated, unsophisticated rural person. They're saying "farmer" but they're thinking "shack people." Farmers know tools, accounting, taxes, land, law and, in New England-given the fickleness of the gods of weather and the nuisances of rocky soil-philosophy. About the only area where Farmers are clearly inferior to suburbanites and urbanites is in their fashion sense.
The farmers of Darby, the few who are left, are often wheelers and dealers in the town. They know how things work; they get themselves elected as selectmen and members of various other boards. Those who quit farming and go on to other work prosper as real estate agents, land developers and contractors. Harold Flagg, the storekeeper I killed off in The Dogs of March, is an example of the non-farming Farmer. Avalon Hillary in The Passion of Estelle Jordan is my archetypical Farmer; he's a composite of the farmers I've met.
Farmers have mixed ideas on zoning. On one hand, like the Locals, they're opposed to zoning out of habit and tradition. On the other hand, they can see great possible profit in zoning, and Farmers are nothing if not practical-minded. Land in an agricultural zone is taxed less than commercial or residential land. If a farmer wants to sell his property, it often makes practical sense for him to re-zone his mind as well as his land. Accordingly, Farmers often find themselves in a philosophical and spiritual maze that includes the topiary of the past, the present, the future, the land, the law, economics, heritage, price controls, free markets, freedom, servitude to animals and retirement in a Florida condo.
GENTRY: The Salmons of Darby (pronounced Sahl-mohn) along with the Butterworths and Prells represent a class of people who are living the America dream in reverse. They reside in Upper Darby in grand houses built between 1890 and 1930 or in remodeled farmhouses dating back to the 18th century. They own a good deal of property, mainly forest land. They're well-educated and cultured, but the family fortune has slipped away, and often the Gentry suffer from cash flow problems. They retain a great deal of prestige in the town and some power. They're New England's equivalent of European royalty: upfront influence, but not enough in the bank to back it up with. I've covered the Salmons, the Prells and the Butterworths in Whisper My Name, the third book in the Darby series, and Live Free or Die, the fifth and concluding book. The Gentry take a cautious attitude toward zoning. They lead the movement in zoning for historical or environmental purposes, but they often side with the Locals when it comes to conventional zoning such as commercial or single-family housing zones. The reason for this is partly tradition. Gentry don't want their towns changing into suburbs. Also, the Gentry have little need for codified zoning, since as owners of large plots of land they've already achieved de facto protection from encroaching development.
Can one move from one class to another in the world of Darby? My answer is that as in most other places in the country one must break away. Success is never in the hometown, and is rarely an outgrowth of one's heritage. It is always someplace else. The best and brightest are educated someplace else; they take jobs someplace else; the childhood sweetheart is abandoned for a loved one someplace else. The ideal couple consists of a man and woman from different parts of the country who establish a family in yet a third location, preferably in the suburbs but maybe in Darby. Evidence for this idea is all around us. Businesses, communities, educational institutions, all sectors of power in our society almost never seek their leaders from within the ranks of the home office or the hometown or the current administration, but bring them in from someplace else. It makes for a society that is fluid, dynamic and lonely with wanderers looking for oases.
The Jordan Kinship
The oases we find or settle for or that are thrust upon us often are not places but social structures. One such structure covered in the Darby books, both a part of and apart from the idea of class, is the idea of kinship. I use the word in a special way, and I'd like to say a few things about how this word came to be and what it encompasses.
Early on I struggled with language in trying to differentiate the Shack People from the rest of Darby society. I didn't like using loaded words such as "upper" and "lower" and even the word "class." These words demean all groups. I went after clarification through the conveyances of fictional characters, setting, dramatic situations and action: the Darby novels. In the writing of the fiction, I found kinship, succor and ascendancy.
In the Jordan kinship, a Jordan gains ascendancy (prestige, power, monetary reward, an advantage in the mating game, a feeling of independence and mastery) by providing succor (employment, leadership, emotional support, companionship and welfare) to less fortunate members of the kinship. When one is healthy, strong, confident and lucky, one seeks ascendancy; when one is unhealthy, weak, hesitant and unlucky, one seeks succor. In this respect, the Jordans aren't much different from most people in America. However, the special uses the Jordans have for "ascendancy" and "succor" not only establish principles of behavior but help give the Jordans an identity that separates them from those in the outside world. Because no one else uses these two words in quite the same way as the Jordans, the language gives them a feeling of exclusivity, a feeling which they require to give them distinction and shape as a kinship. In almost all groups who seek to secede from the mainstream culture, one can find such creative language. Members of the Jordan kinship don't necessarily know each other by name, but they recognize one another through codes of dress, accents of speech, modes of behavior and styles of housing. They know not only that they're the Shack People, they know they're a special version and they're proud of it. Here's an example. Ollie Jordan, in A Little More Than Kin, meets his common law life wife, Helen, at the County Fair: "He breathed in the smell of her long brown hair-wood smoke, fried foods, the piss from babies, farm animals-and he knew she was of his own kind."
Kinship as a Phenomenon
Most members of the Jordan kinship are poor. In the eyes of their fellow Darby folk, they rank at the bottom of the social ladder. In the scheme of things in Tuckerman County, they probably don't amount to much. But the idea of kinship, in the sense that that I use that word, is not limited to tiny clans in the hills of Northern New England. Kinship groups are strong and pervasive throughout American life. Members of kinships can be rich or poor, or anywhere in between. They can hold political views and values of every stripe. What binds the members in kinship has little to do with money or politics. As long as the members of an extended family are caught in the grip of a loyalty above immediate family, nation and society, the group can grow into a kinship. Nearly any community or neighborhood will include a dominant kinship. What we fear in such families is not their family affiliations but an x-factor that may threaten us; this x-factor is the power of kinship, a power that rises up from the inside and which serves not us but the members of the kinship. Not all families develop into kinships, and it's more than blood ties that make up a kinship. It's culture and class as well as clan; it's a selfish attitude that the group has about itself.
A group united by kinship can contribute to and be integrated within society at large; for example, the Kennedy family of Massachusetts. One may or may not agree with the Kennedys' political philosophy, but it's undeniable that within the Kennedy kinship is a will to do good for society. Kinship groups like the Kennedys are the exception, however. Most kinships are hostile to society. Kinships might be politically conservative or liberal, but in their internal structures they are self-referential and exclusionary. Members are accountable to the kinship before they are accountable to city, state, nation, church, society and even immediate family.
Sometimes in kinships-perhaps most of the time-the blood bond is not so much biological as metaphorical. The enduring Ku Klux Klan has its origins in clan, culture and class. The Klan constitutes a kinship. A motorcycle club, where the members swear allegiance to the group above all, is a kinship. So-called drug cartels develop along lines of clan, culture and class: kinships. Some kinships are temporary; for example, college fraternities and sororities, and youth gangs. A kinship by my definition is almost always narrow, measuring events and deciding on actions according to its own rules. A business corporation does not constitute a kinship, but the management structure of a corporation might. The same thing goes for the membership of a trade union. Or a university. Or a religious institution. Or a governmental body. The test of kinship is whether members of a group have rules they put ahead of the rule of law and ahead of the instinct to abide by the unwritten codes of society. Thus the Mafia functions as a kinship, but not the Knights of Columbus.
The Jordan kinship poses no direct threat to American society, but a proliferation of kinships does. For so long, our national debate has been waged on the battleground of democracy versus communism, conservatism versus liberalism. Republican versus Democrat, White versus Black, man versus woman, gay versus straight, rich versus poor, atheist versus believer, native versus newcomer, suburb versus city, developer versus environmentalist, local versus state, state versus federal. But what really drives the world are small groups, shadow bodies within communities, within neighborhoods, within businesses, within political parties, within institutions, within ethnic groups, within governmental bodies, entities very like the ones I've tried to describe as kinships. Kinships are exciting, selfish, powerful, tribal and juvenile, giving rise to youth gangs, spoiled-brat family dynasties, greedy business empires, bullying political parties and, finally, government dictatorships.
Kinships are always among us, but they rise up and grow more powerful when the nuclear family is weak, where youth rides over age, where government largess is distant, where political parties are fragmented and lacking a moral center. In other words, kinships fill a need in a society such as ours, given over as it is to individualism. Kinships supply rules, patterns of behavior, companionship, moral support, welfare and opportunities for prestige: ascendancy and succor. Most kinships are not at the forefront of consciousness in our society. Most exist invisibly, outside the news, so to speak. But without a kinship, a person is in serious trouble. Every time I go to New York I'm amazed at the number and variety of immigrants, many speaking languages I've never heard before and gesturing in ways I've never seen. I've talked to several of these people, a waiter in a Lebanese restaurant, a young woman from Cambodia, an Irishman college student with an athletic scholarship for his abilities at soccer, a member of an East Indian caste with extensive financial interests in American motels. These people, and from all appearances the other immigrants I've seen, belong to kinships. It was the power of kin that brought them to this country in the first place. I've also seen thousands of homeless men and women of all ages going through trash containers looking for food, sleeping on the street or in subways tunnels. Most of these people are Americans of long-standing. They were homeless because for whatever reason, they needed succor; having lost the tether to their kinship groups, there was no one to provide that succor.
The working title for A Little More Than Kin was The Kinship. Somehow, though, it didn't seem to me that the book earned that title, because it was so narrowly about Ollie Jordan and his own personal madness in his relationship with his retarded son. Willow. I was still struggling to find a title when my friend Terry Pindell of Keene suggested a line from Hamlet. The minute he spoke Hamlet's aside about his despised uncle, "A little more than kin, and less than kind," I knew I had my title.
When I was working on The Passion of Estelle Jordan, it also passed through my mind to name this Jordan book The Kinship. Once again I decided that the novel was too much about one character, Estelle Jordan, to use the inclusive "Kinship" title. I didn't come to the eventual title until I'd finished the last draft. Shortly before the novel was going to go to press I mailed some suggested titles to my editor at Viking Press, Charles Verrill. The Passion of Estelle Jordan was the last one that popped into my head as I finished the list. Days later I suddenly realized that I had unconsciously structured my novel along the lines of the Roman Catholic mass. In the mass, a perfect sacrifice is made in order to save humanity from Adam's sin. That sacrifice is Christ. Estelle too must make a perfect sacrifice. In the Catholic faith, Christ's suffering is often referred to as his "passion." The Passion of Estelle Jordan had to be the title. I called Verrill. I called my agent, Rita Scott. She wasn't in, but her colleague, Ray Powers, said Verrill had already picked one of the titles. I broke into a panicky sweat. "Ern," Powers said, "It's The Passion of Estelle Jordan.
I've felt for a long time that although they are part of an even larger entity, now called The Darby Chronicles, A Little More Than Kin and The Passion of Estelle Jordan belong together. I felt that books together earn the I had in mind from the beginning, The Kinship.