Kaplan-Maxfield, Thomas 1952-

views updated

Kaplan-Maxfield, Thomas 1952-


Born October 17, 1952, in Chicopee, MA; son of Gerard and Julie Maxfield; married June 5, 1976; wife's name, Ellen (a Web designer). Education: Boston College, Ph.D. Politics: "Progressive."


Home and office—Medford, MA. E-mail—[email protected]


KMH Contracting, Medford, MA, owner and writer, c. 1985—. Instructor at Boston College, c. 1985—, and Tufts University; Wang Center for the Performing Arts, teacher of writers in residence, 1997-2002.


Memoirs of a Shape-Shifter (novel), Kepler Press (Cambridge, MA), 2005.

Contributor to periodicals, including Poets and Writers.


Thomas Kaplan-Maxfield's contemporary gothic novel Memoirs of a Shape-Shifter tells the story of Nikki Helmik, a forty-year-old woman who quits her law career and returns to her hometown of Gloucester, Massachusetts. In Gloucester she falls in love with the son of her childhood mentor, the cruel Rose Eveless, who is obsessed with the idea of eternal youth. Rose does not approve of the relationship but will allow it if Nikki promises to find the lost journal of Anne Cleves, a Druid magician who lived in colonial New England and was an ancestor of Nikki's. The novel alternates between Nikki's present-day narration and her ancestor's journal, which reveals just as much about Nikki as it does about its writer.

On the Web site Curled Up with a Good Book, Mayra Calvani noted that the dialogue in this study of the female psyche "flows naturally and sparkles with genuineness, and the author does an excellent job putting himself in the mind of the female protagonist." In addition, a contributor to the Small Press Bookwatch described the book as "entangled," and added that the story "does not let go until the final page."

On his home page, Kaplan-Maxfield credits writing with keeping him alive. In a welcoming message on the Web site, the writer tells a story of his fictional heart transplant, which included complications and a dream in which the donor told him he needed to write in order to stay alive. His stories, he reflected, are "all fundamentally about love; from the heart."

Kaplan-Maxfield once told CA: "I became a writer in fifth grade, when I simultaneously discovered, via watching a movie called The Cardinal, that I did not want to become a priest, that I could enter the fictional world via writing, that that world felt like home to me, and when I kissed my first girl. Since then writing, ‘truth’ in some sense, and women have been entangled in my imagination.

"I was a friend of Lawrence Durrell for many years, and published an article about that friendship in Poets and Writers in 1993, after Mr. Durrell's death. He has been a major influence on my writing.

"What I've learned as a writer is perhaps not so much surprising as crucial: it's to ignore the voice that says ‘this is awful’ as well as ‘this is great.’ I consider both voices the same, essentially, and equally to be ignored. It is not the artist's job to judge the work, but rather to perform his job as well as he can. Having a favorite book seems like having a favorite child; in some way it would feel like a betrayal of the others. Memoirs of a Shape-Shifter is the book that's out there in the world right now and just getting going, and so it is taking my attention.

"I consider myself growing on the same tree as Thoreau, Henry Miller, Kerouac, Durrell and others who assumed a connection between life and art, between belief and action, fantasy and behavior. Thus I would like my work to immerse the reader in that sense—that always and everywhere art is life and life art. Because love is the activity where we most feel and see the connection between our feelings and our behaviors, I have had many ‘heart transplants.’ As I say in my readings for Memoirs of a Shape-Shifter, which is about the ancient art of shape-shifting, when one falls in love, one's shape is shifted by the other. One gives one's heart away and in a sense takes on another one. This is the way in which I intended the story of the heart transplant on my Web site, for it delineates most precisely my approach to life."

Later Kaplan-Maxfield told CA: "I write about love and with a sense of spirit. That is, I believe a writer should have a more or less clear sense of why he writes. One should tackle ideas, problems, especially those posed by the time he lives in. He must find the sore spot and massage it, and in so doing push the work forward, the society forward, into the future. One should have at least one eye on the present, therefore, and one on the future. And the third eye is for the past.

"I think we are in such a politically troubled time that it is incumbent upon us to write political novels, By that I don't mean novels overtly about politics, but rather novels that take up the historical conditions of the present. The Nation published an article on the memoir-writing craze which noted that the problem with many memoirs these days is that they ignore the historical moment and instead focus inward, as if the individual existed somehow outside of time or society.

"Instead, we ought to be using the terms and conditions of our time, not just as backdrop, but as actor in the dramas we write. I have recently begun to think that the great moral problem of our time is no longer man's inhumanity to man—we learned that lesson with the Holocaust, and we should not forget it. But we writers today need to focus on the tragedy unfolding before us—the destruction of the environment. Perhaps this ought to be the subject of our tragedies and comedies. In addition, the Internet as image tells us we are in an age of connectedness, for good and ill. The novel I am presently working on is called Belongings as a play on the term for possessions and the condition of being connected. Mercury as the god of connections is poisoning our air and water; we need to sacrifice to him to find out what is going on.

"So I believe with Shelley that writers are the legislators as well as interpreters of our time. We must take the tired form of the novel and reinvigorate it with other, newer subjects than middle-class existence and inner struggles. Now it is time to engage the world and speak to it, engage our own self-destructiveness, our murderous hatred of life. Why would we feel such a thing?"



Small Press Bookwatch, September, 2005, review of Memoirs of a Shape-Shifter.


Kepler Press Web site,http://www.keplerpress.com/ (June 4, 2007), biography of Thomas Kaplan-Maxfield.

Thomas Kaplan-Maxfield Home Page,http://www.tkaplanmaxfield.com (June 4, 2007).