RUIN: A NOVEL OF FLY FISHING IN BANKRUPTCY
This vivid story opens with every couple’s nightmare—the disappearance of their comfortable known world. Ruin’s adventure explores the unpredictable progression of character and chance for Francy and Frank Campbell, newly destitute in their early thirties, along with their lovers and foes. And a murder investigator. . .
Frank is another dreamer whose life is suddenly burned to the ground. More a disillusioned literature Ph.D. than an experienced financier, he had naively agreed to join his wife’s inheritance with his own personal guarantee of a college friend’s private equity partnership debt.
The business implosion and subsequent bankruptcy took all their assets. Francy, an orphaned European heiress, now finds herself homeless, still married to pleasant, witty Frank—who had failed to protect them from disaster.
The couple flees Manhattan to live at a desolate non-working Hudson Valley farm. Frank starts an artisanal brewery with a charismatic new eccentric friend. And, central to the heart of the story, he takes up fly fishing. A local doctor, perceiving Frank’s depression, prescribes that he gain some confidence through self-taught fishing.
Frank’s perceptions on the water are fresh and acute, sometimes colored by his memory of the words of famous writers, now painfully ironic in his life’s new context. The novel weaves together fly fishing and life experiences that ultimately turn shockingly deadly.
And throughout, there is Francy’s story. Now in exile, she re-approaches painting with new and darkly complex emotional energy. Painting in reclusive concentration, she cuts Frank off, tacitly becoming her own woman. Her work’s enigmatic intensity attracts a wealthy neighbor who offers Francy a show in his Manhattan gallery and that attracts a great deal of trouble indeed.
Leigh grew up near the Chesapeake Bay in rural Maryland. He is a graduate of his local high school, of Columbia College and of Columbia Law School.
As author of Ruin: Leigh lived and wrote the worlds of its characters, having walked many of their paths himself. However, unlike the very unlucky Frank and Francy, whose tale of disaster in Ruin is loosely based upon that of now deceased acquaintances, for Leigh and his wife Susan life in Manhattan was not left forever. They are members of private clubs and institutions there, like those the Campbells had to leave behind. Leigh sequentially progressed from finance attorney to co-founding a large private equity firm to venture capital investing. Career time took him for periods to West Texas, the Deep South and London. Personality portrayals in Ruin draw upon experiences there.
The decayed Hudson Valley farmstead where Frank and Francy flee, is a poignant character in itself. Similar as it is to the formerly ruined farm which Leigh and Susan brought to vibrant variety. Their times brought flocks of sheep and goats, laying hens so privileged their big coop is named the “Poultry Palace”, a vineyard and winery, an apiary operation, and a vegetable garden sized for a large family. Much of the work there is by their own hands.
The several fishing episodes of Ruin are all based to some extent on Leigh and Susan’s own adventures, where their fly fishing has taken them across four continents. And Leigh’s love of nature led to long financial support of and service on, the boards of two of the largest American land and water conservancy foundations. He also now chairs the fishery conservation work of The Anglers’ Club of New York, of which he has served as president.
Leigh has also been an executive committee leader of Checkerboard Film Foundation, an award-winning documentary film producer which has archived over thirty living history portrayals of major American visual artists and architects. The Checkerboard project is to preserve for posterity thoughtfully candid views of their own work by art world luminaries who will be famous and studied long after their passing.
THE FIRST OF JUNE
From the New York Press, Section C, Insiders Spotlight – A SCRAMBLED SUIT
“Today the $600 million bankruptcy of Hyperian Castle Partners concluded in an overflowing courtroom. The three-year-old case was discharged by a judge calling it a troubling example of litigious over-contention. Billing by 210 attorneys was paid from the crashed high-flying Castle’s assets”
“Revenance is life’s provenance”
“The problem that is me started back when I was still a boy. I loved literature more than math plain as that. And so I began down a long tangled lane led by useless masters of useless words. That is apparent to me looking back. Too many years of dreaming others’ dreams made my character’s biggest flaw. Leading to two and a half Yale degrees and then boneheaded business misjudgements”
“Commandments. Those rules are simple and they guide to the right thing. But people forget. With all the distractions of evil around them. We need to go back into living and dying by the Commandments because they keep us out of trouble”
“Walking back up the hill to Francy’s empty house, I realize Robert must be discreetly glad that Frank the pathetically lost man is now leaving him alone awhile. Robert has enough sadness in his own lonely separate peace. A godly man with no God fit to purpose”
“Francy was out of the water when I arrived. Laid out on gravel wet as only the drowned can be. Nobody had had the nerve to close those clear eyes, those parted lips graying already”
“No matter. It is Francy, only Francy, I want to haunt me. Beg her to now. As I should have far better begged her in life. I spoke too lightly to her depth in my shallowness”
“I had replaced literature with financial fictions. And turned further up to that conclusive moment in my and Francy’s bankruptcy trial that I should have remembered from Yale the questioning irony an astute reader brings to a complex novel”
“A novel of flyfishing in bankruptcy”
Oh, My Goodness! In my more than a decade of blogging, this will honestly and truly, have to be about one, if not the, most challenging book review I will have had to write!
So rather than have a post-mortem about all the whys and wherefores right at the top of the page, how about I tell you about the story as I see it… because it is really amazing!
In New York, Hyperion Castle Hedge Funds files for bankruptcy and whilst there is no question of fraud by Managing Director Frank Campbell and his partners, merely a naive over-confidence, leaving very large exposures, Frank and his wife Francesca (Francy) are personally bankrupted, as Frank unbeknown to Francy, had also sunk all of her money into the venture too. With nothing left to their names except their Lamborghini, the couple set off into the Hudson Valley, to claim what is left of Francy’s inheritance and hopefully a roof over their heads at least. By the time they get towards their destination, even Frank has to concede that Lamborghini has to go, as its unsuitability to handle the rough terrain is immediately obvious, with the dwelling being little more than a rundown shack, with a leaky roof, which has become home to a herd of goats. As they approach the property via a bridge over the river, they stop to observe and photograph, a man fishing in the river. He introduces himself as Jace, who lives in a renovated castle, with his current partner Joan, on the opposite bank of the river to Frank and Francy. He invites the couple over to join a gathering of his like-minded fishing friends, so that they can get to know people and hopefully be persuaded take up the sport themselves. Jace’s (AKA Felix and Kyle) friends are a very monied, eclectic, eccentric and superficial collection of humanity, and whilst Francy seems to be hanging onto every word they say, Frank was truly hoping that he had left those kinds of people behind him for good, as their very survival going forwards, depends on him being a hunter gatherer, not a dreamer.
Following a very permanent family disagreement with his brother, and almost as though it had been planned, one Mr Robert Taylor turns up at the property, with a strange business proposition for Frank. Robert offers his carpentry skills in bringing the homestead and outbuildings back to a habitable condition, in return for Frank making space available to him in which to establish his artisanal brewery, with living accommodation for himself. Robert is also willing to put up all the investment funds needed, if Frank and Francy will learn the basics of the trade and Frank will act as his sales agent. The couple readily agree to Robert’s plans, although rather than seeing them pull together to solve a problem as Frank had hoped, it seems that Francy has decided to distance herself from him as much as possible, and making one of the rooms her new studio, she has taken up painting again, something at which she had achieved moderate success back in the city. Frank and Robert form an instant friendship, so when Frank returns, successful and with orders, from one of his lengthier sales trips, Robert confides that he has witnessed Jace making several extended visits to Francy, and he doesn’t think that they are newly acquainted, as everyone had assumed. When Frank is finally able to engage in a meaningful conversation with Francy, she reveals that Jace has arranged for one of his acquaintances, who owns a very prestigious gallery in the city, to host an exhibition of her paintings, which she will display under her maiden name. Just to prove to his friend that Jace values her work, he has purchased one of the pieces for himself, for the amazing sum of $75,000 and a shiny new Mini, to give Francy back some independence from Frank, who has invested in a very second-hand pick-up truck for himself.
With Frank and Francy’s lives taking ever divergent paths and Robert very subtly taking control of the brewery, one of Jace’s group of friends, retired doctor Arthur, a devout fisherman and hunter, has taken a shine to Frank and wants to encourage him to pursue fly fishing as a means of therapy. He offers Frank everything he needs to get him started and sets him off at a suitable spot in the river, however he insists that Frank find his own way totally, without reading any manuals and taking no formal instruction. Frank discovers that he has a latent talent and when Arthur confides in him that he doesn’t have long to live and he would like Frank to agree to writing his own book about his fishing experiences across not only America, but the rest of the world too, Frank agrees without demur, little knowing that events not a million miles away, on that very same day, will shape that future challenge he has accepted, and will indeed accelerate it. In fact there are a series of ‘accidents’ which will leave two of Jace’s group injured, with three more losing their lives altogether.
After a few months have passed and with his friendship with Robert still rock-steady, Frank realises that now he only has himself to think about, Arthur had been astute and timely in the challenge he had set, so he packs up only what he will need for the trip of a lifetime and sets off to fulfil a solitary destiny which he has yet to forge. Having travelled and fished his way across not only his own continent, but those of the rest of the world too, Frank has learned almost every conceivable method of catching fish, whilst discovering and awakening, just about every aspect of his true inner self – or at least that is his belief, until he meets EJ and Lodice, in Guatemala of all places. Frank and EJ instantly recognise one another, as EJ had been CEO of a company which had been one of the biggest creditors at the bankruptcy hearing of Frank’s company. Frank is immediately on guard, not knowing how EJ will react to seeing him, but in just a short time and after meeting EJ’s wife Lodice, Frank is amazed all over again by the couple’s reaction and the proposition they have for him.
Even more surprising and totally unnerving for Frank, is the next person he meets, this time in London, as he is still unsure about the role she played in the tragic ‘accidents’ back home in the Hudson Valley, on that fateful day which changed his life forever. As a shared spirit, was she a part of defining his recent past, or will she play an important role in re-shaping his future going forwards, as it would appear that his life has now travelled full circle, but hopefully making him a much better person along the way, and who knows what awaits him at tomorrow’s dawning!
And now for the almost impossible part of this post, to set down my thoughts in any cohesive fashion.
There is no doubt in my mind about the importance of this work and how much it often parallels and mirrors the real life story of the author and his wife, although there are obvious, discernible differences, which set it apart.
The inspired and compelling storyline is multi-layered, highly textured, haunting and definitely intriguing. The many subtle twists in the plot made what at first glance may have seemed a predictable storyline, into a journey of discovery, with its many strands being deftly and skilfully woven together by some evocative narrative and often disturbingly frank and honest dialogue.
Some vivid and visually descriptive scenes, make both the characters and locations leap from the page, to infiltrate my very thought processes and stimulate my senses. For any ‘armchair travellers’ reading this story, satisfaction is almost assuredly guaranteed.
Author Leigh Seippel, has Frank waxing lyrical about his life and experiences, combining them with his new passion for the great outdoors and of course, his beloved fly-fishing. However, I am left with so many difficult and unanswered questions shouting at me to lay them to rest, which is almost impossible, as the highly nuanced messaging and inferences are almost indistinguishable from reality, and it seems to have been deliberately left, for me the reader, to draw my own conclusions about so many things. There seems to be some not-so-subtle reflections on the issues surrounding race and racial equality, particularly prevalent in some of the many conversations which Robert and Frank share, although much of the push-back seems to come from Robert, himself a person of colour. However, he takes a surprisingly tough stance when Jace’s name comes up, despite their shared heritage. Much is also made about the surprising attraction between Robert’s usually aggressive dog and Frank’s equally rambunctious ram and when things get rather ‘physical’, I’m still not quite certain that my humour would have been the author’s desired response!
It was obvious that Robert and Arthur, but particularly Arthur, were the only people who realised the almost total and potentially catastrophic fragility and frailty of Frank’s mind and mental health following the enforced bankruptcy. This is the personal story of Frank’s solitary introspection, strengthening his mind, spirit, resolve and physical resilience, which has offered him a chance for new beginnings. Now it is up to him how he chooses to use that opportunity, in either shaping a new future, or regressing on all his many gains and reverting to kind.
Leigh has created a well-defined and developed cast of characters, who are, for all their outward show of strength, emotionally raw and passionate, yet also complex and vulnerable. Whilst this makes them addictive and authentic to the roles created for them, it also means they are often volatile, unreliable and almost impossible to relate to or invest in, as they are wont to manipulate a situation to suit their own ends.
I am still unable to decide whether Ruin is a sheer stroke of deliberate philosophical genius in the style in which it has been written, or if it is a book which simply needs to be proof-read, edited and re-edited until all those annoying kinks have been ironed out. This storyline needed to be read in solitude, word for word, to appreciate the many cadences and true inspiration in the way the individual words are used to create meaningful sentences, but without the use of any extraneous ‘joining up’ words. I think for me personally though, the fact that almost every single word which began with a ‘th’ sound, was missing the t and h, which made second guessing quite difficult sometimes.
This truly begged to be a 5* read, however I couldn’t get passed some of those glaring anomalies, which left me unable in all conscience to leave more than 4* I do however urge you, if you can get your hands on an inexpensive copy of the book, to read it for yourself and see where your journey leads you, but you will need to be patient and devote your full attention to the detail. I would love to know if you agree with my thinking, or if I am really missing something fundamental in my appraisal and I owe the author a genuine apology.
All that being said however, I still believe that what makes reading such a wonderful experience for me, is that with each and every new book, I am taken on a unique and individual journey, by authors who fire my imagination, stir my emotions and stimulate my senses. This was definitely one of those “one of a kind” experiences, which had the power to evoke so many feelings, that I’m sure I won’t have felt the same way about it as the last reader, nor the next. I can only recommend that you read Ruin… for yourself and see where your journey leads you!
Sometimes reading something different from my usual selection of genres really is like a breath of fresh air.
A complimentary kindle download of this book for review, was made available by the author and Meryl Moss Media, and was supplied by NetGalley.
Any thoughts or comments are my own personal opinion and I am in no way being monetarily compensated for this, or any other article which promotes this book or its author.
I personally do not agree with ‘rating’ a book, as the overall experience is all a matter of personal taste, which varies from reader to reader. However, some review sites do demand a rating value, so when this review is posted to such a site, it will attract 4 out of 5 stars!
Thank you for taking the time to read my review, I appreciate your support