BEMIDJI — Will Weaver’s great aunt went to her grave with no justice from an assault that shattered her life. In his newly published novel, “Power & Light,” Weaver attempts to right that wrong.
“I don’t know if justice can be applied retroactively,” Weaver said. “But I at least tried.”
Weaver, 73, is a retired Bemidji State University English professor whose first novel,
was published in 1986 and
While teaching full time he wrote a dozen novels and short story collections. His short story,
was made into the award-winning movie
“Power & Light” is deeply personal to Weaver. He spent five years writing it, much of it while also caring for his mother, who died in 2020 at the age of 101.
“We spent some wonderful hours at her care home and Nielson Place, and I just learned so much about her life,” Weaver recalled. “I learned so many wonderful details about her growing up. I was able to blend those into the novel to add some accuracy and realism.”
That realism rings true throughout the gripping novel, which has received rave reviews.
“The surprising and consistent reaction I’m getting is the matter of it being a page-turner,” Weaver said this week. “I so appreciate that. I didn’t write it to be a fast page-turner, but I spent so much time smoothing and streamlining that I think in the end it has that strong forward momentum.
“Someone said it reads like silk. I think that was a testament to the care I took with the sentences. It all boils down to the sentence level. And as we say in the business, hard writing is easy reading.”
The book’s title has more than one meaning. “Power & Light” is set in the 1930s when the Rural Electrification Act was created to bring electricity to farms like that of the Haugen family near the fictional northeastern North Dakota town of Skye.
“It is literally the coming of power and light, the arrival of electricity,” Weaver said, “but it’s also power and light symbolically as agency, as power of owning land and gradually creating a larger family. I’m using that title in two ways.”
Weaver’s great-grandparents came from Norway to the Turtle Mountain area of northeastern North Dakota in 1906.
“They were like most immigrants, back on their heels and had their little homestead farm,” Weaver explained. “Something happened to one of my great aunts and we determined later it was some sort of assault on her by a powerful man in the community, It wasn’t talked about. It really changed her life.”
By the time Weaver decided to write this novel, most of his family members were gone. The great-aunt who was assaulted was an old woman when Will was a boy.
“But I knew something was wrong there,” he said, “and as a fiction writer I’m always sort of called to those little things that stay in the memory, that don’t go away. There’s something to be said about this particular thing. So I’m finally trying to say it in this big novel.”
The book includes vivid descriptions of the farm, train trips, courthouses, hospitals, hotels and restaurants from places like Fargo, Grand Forks and Crookston. Weaver’s attention to detail is compelling. Describing the farm and its buildings came easily.
“I’m quite suffused with those sorts of details: barns, well houses, the chicken house, etc.,” he said. “When my characters (travel) on trains or go to the big city, Fargo or Grand Forks, then that requires me to look back at old photos, newspaper articles and so on. It is correct to the period in the 1930s.”
Weaver describes the story of “Power & Light” this way: “It’s about a Norwegian immigrant family who has hard times, but their path shows their resilience and their success in many ways mirrors the success of America. They’re tenacious, they don’t give up and they fight for what’s theirs.”
Weaver added, “When I finish a piece of writing, if it’s good, I often have a very emotional reaction. It’s like putting down the last piece of a really big puzzle. I had that same sort of release when I finished this after that five-year period. I just knew that it was the best I had written in a long, long time.”
Weaver said he is about halfway finished with a sequel, “Full Dark, Bright Stars,” which will be released in the fall of 2024.
“My challenge is to bring it forward into the turn of the new century,” he said. “I’m covering a lot of time, and that’s always complicated. I love a literary challenge. Each book is its own challenge.”
Weaver, who recently won a Region 2 Arts Council Artist Fellowship Award for career achievement, will hold a reading and book signing event at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 5, at the Bemidji Public Library.
Published by Calumet Editions of Edina, Minn., “Power & Light” is available at area booksellers, including Four Pines Bookstore in Bemidji, and online at Amazon or Barnes and Noble.