Peter Loon

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In the decades following the American Revolution, the United States saw a series of regional conflicts, such as the Whiskey Rebellion. Among them was squatter-landlord strife in Maine, and it is there that author Van Reid sets Peter Loon.

After his father’s death, seventeen-year-old Peter Loon is sent by his mother on a quest to find a former beau of hers. Naive, dutiful, and honest, Loon sets off from the family cabin in the wilderness but soon stumbles into the company of a remarkable itinerant preacher, Parson Leach. Loon and Leach then encounter Liberty Men, led by a violent evangelist, conspiring to attack the town-dwelling Great Proprietors who claim to own the land cleared and planted by backcountry farmers like Loon’s family. After they rescue a girl from a mob, Loon sees the other side of the dispute at the home of a sea captain and meets the local gentry, some of whom are as bellicose as the Liberty Men. (He also discovers to his astonishment that young women in both camps find him very attractive indeed.) The stage is set for a deadly battle when the sheriff arrests farmers suspected of assaulting a land agent. Thanks to men of cool sense and good will, particularly Loon and Leach, the climactic confrontation between the Liberty Men and the Maine militia ends with little violence and unexpected accord.

Peter Loon is a novel of ideas written with such disarming lightness and dexterity that even when the characters seem schematic types (such as Loon, a man of nature, and Leach, a man of books), they charm in word and deed. So there is little that sounds forced and much that is delightful in Reid’s fictional debates between Evangelicals and Congregationalists, the illiterate and literate, or anti-government farmers and pro- government landlords. Reid depicts temperate, energetic, unselfish people overcoming factionalism, the most encouraging idea in the novel.