Friday, September 11, 2015

Jay Atkinson's "Massacre on the Merrimack"

Jay Atkinson, called “the bard of New England toughness” by Men’s Health magazine, is the author of eight books. Caveman Politics was a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Program selection and a finalist for the Discover Great New Writers Award; Ice Time was a Publishers Weekly Notable Book of the Year and a New England Bookseller’s Association bestseller; and Legends of Winter Hill spent seven weeks on the Boston Globe hardcover bestseller list. He has written for the New York Times, Boston Globe, Newsday, Portland Oregonian, Men’s Health, Boston Sunday Herald, and Boston Globe magazine, among other publications. Atkinson teaches writing at Boston University and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize three times. He grew up hearing Hannah Duston's story in his hometown of Methuen, Massachusetts, which was part of Haverhill until 1726. He lives in Methuen, Massachusetts.

Here Atkinson dreamcasts an adaptation of his new book, Massacre on the Merrimack: Hannah Duston's Captivity and Revenge in Colonial America:
Early on March 15, 1697, a band of Abenaki raided the English frontier village of Haverhill, Massachusetts. Striking swiftly, the Abenaki killed twenty-seven men, women, and children, and took thirteen captives, including 39-year old Hannah Duston and her week-old daughter, Martha. A short distance from the village, one of the warriors murdered the squalling infant by dashing her head against a tree. After a forced march of nearly one hundred miles, Duston and two companions were transferred to a smaller band of Abenaki, who camped on a tiny island located at the junction of the Merrimack and Contoocook Rivers, several miles north of present day Concord, New Hampshire. Later that first night, Duston and her two companions killed two warriors, two women, and six children. After stealing a canoe and departing the island, Duston returned briefly to scalp her victims.

In casting a movie made from this story, I would be interested, as I always am, in a strong woman. A Howard Hawks-style woman. As Hannah Duston, perhaps Jennifer Lawrence or Hilary Swank. As her fifty-one year-old nurse and companion, the widow Mary Neff, you’d have to go with Meryl Streep or perhaps Susan Sarandon. As Duston’s stalwart husband, Thomas, who saved their children and kept a band of warriors at bay with his single-shot rifle, I can see a grizzled Josh Brolin or a grubby Tom Hardy. There are some good character parts, too: John Lithgow or Anthony Hopkins as Judge Samuel Sewall, who took part in the Salem witch trials just a few years earlier and entertained Goodwife Duston and her husband at his Boston home. Benedict Cumberbatch as Cotton Mather. Christoph Waltz as Count Frontenac, the mercurial French colonial governor.

Going back into Hollywood’s golden era, Barbara Stanwyck or Joan Crawford as Hannah Duston. Warner Baxter or Spencer Tracy as Thomas Duston. Thomas Mitchell as Sewall. A young Basil Rathbone as Mather. Raoul Walsh could direct, or you could go with a dark horse like Otto Preminger or Fritz Lang. William Wellman, who was a semi-pro hockey player and WWI aviator. Hawks, himself. Even John Ford. Fun to imagine.

Among today’s directors, there’s only one choice: Kathryn Bigelow.
Visit Jay Atkinson's website.

--Marshal Zeringue