In 1980, the country made choices. American renewal was in the wind. Nostalgic imagery and heroic iconography joined to quicken the national pulse and convince us, after the upheavals of the 60s and 70s—after the fights for equal rights and the flawed nation that they exposed—that we were as true and pure as we'd once thought ourselves.
Lennie Ashland made some choices, too. Graduating from Harvard in 1980, Lennie soon faced a grave loss that made him fear the future he saw before him. He feared becoming a man who looked back on too many regrets.
Armed with a young man's aimlessness and insecurity, as well as the arrogance his family's wealth afforded him, he made a choice. He conceived a trip to discover where he fit into this land of renewal, to find his special place in it, to view first-hand the re-ascendent grandeur of the common man—and to do it in a vintage, two-door Delta 88.
Lennie conceived a quest to find himself and his country. He discovered both, and he wasn't prepared for either. He made a choice, and never imagined the price he'd have to pay.
"In the Company of Educated Men" is his mid-life attempt to tell the story and reconcile himself to its consequences.
Lennie cajoles, wheedles and bribes his best friends, Paul and Louisa, both equally adrift post-graduation, to come along—as if to bear witness. He makes them an irresistible offer. He offers to take them along to live a dream.
At first, the journey's a lark, and they continue to see themselves and this country through the prism of their comparatively privileged preconceptions.
Until that one stop in the Heartland that changed everything.
At an Oklahoma gas station, they meet Jesse, a teenager, strangely compelling, seemingly half dangerous, half innocent, and wielding a gun. To Paul and Louisa's horror, it's clear that Lennie is genuinely intrigued by him--despite (or maybe because of) the danger he represents.
Soon after, the group encounters a 10 year-old girl desperate to flee her battling parents.
Three recent Harvard graduates, literally and figuratively adrift in a strange land that happens to be their own country, a teenager with a gun, a little girl seeking respite from a domestic hell—this is the group that fate flings together. It took twenty hears before Lennie could look back, rekindle it, make sense of tit--the terror, the grand betrayals, the blood and the losses.
"In the Company of Educated Men" is his attempt.
"In the Company of Educated Men" is a first-person tale of a man reckoning with his past. A tense, intimate story of richly drawn, deeply flawed characters who dare to dream that fate has touched them, or fear that it’s abandoned them altogether. As one of the characters says, she once heard a story about a boy who thought he was special.
“He made pretty wings of wax and feathers,” she says, “and flew too close to the sun."
Leonce Gaiter’s novels include the historical novel, "I Dreamt I Was in Heaven - The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang," and the noir thriller "Bourbon Street." His non-fiction has appeared in The Huffington Post, LA Times, The Washington Post, Salon, NY Times, NY Times Magazine and in national syndication. He has worked professionally in the creative ends of the film, recording, and marketing industries.
More about the author and his writings at leoncegaiter.com.