The opening scene of Barry Coughlin’s new historical fiction novel, “Living the Dream,” is set in the Kaskaskia River bottom south of Vandalia.
It was that first scene that sucked me into this book about the early surveyor whose job it was to plat out the new capital – Vandalia. I read the first 37 pages without leaving my chair.
I’m not really a historical fiction reader. I like the facts, preferably with three or more sources.
Barry Coughlin may have changed all that.
We are admonished to write what we know. Well, Barry Coughlin knows surveying. He is the man in the book, slogging through the mud and mire, slapping at the swarms of bloodsuckers looking for their next snack.
The book, set in Fayette County, centers around a man named William Bassett. A land surveyor in a small Midwestern town, Bassett is hired to survey the location for a new stop light at the intersection of Route 40 and Interstate Drive in the village of St. Elsewhere.
Enter one of Barry’s colorful characters in the book, Pearl. She smashes her piece of junk Chevy into Bassett, sending him into a coma where he is transported to the earliest years of the Illinois statehood.
In this earlier time, he is William Bassett, U.S. deputy surveyor. Hired by Gov. Shadrach Bond to locate the site of Illinois’ new state capital, Vandalia, Bassett – with two hunters, an Indian guide, two French trappers and two surveyor’s helpers – left Kaskaskia, heading north into the basically uncharted virgin forest.
The book, “Living the Dream,” has all the elements of a good book. There is mystery, interesting characters, boy meets girl, identifiable local sites and humor.
This first effort took him 15 months to complete.
Barry also writes motivational articles, contributes to the St. Elmo Devonian and is writing a sequel to “Living the Dream.” He said that he wanted to write a fictional account of history, not replace history.
Barry asked, when I interviewed him, that in my article I focus more on the book rather than on the fact that he was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS) in 2001. I told Barry I would be happy to do that, since he was being interviewed by someone receiving weekly treatments for breast cancer.