Svenson, Peter 1944(?)–
Svenson, Peter 1944(?)–
ADDRESSES: Home—MD. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Permanent Press Publishing Co., 4170 Noyac Rd., Sag Harbor, NY 11963.
AWARDS, HONORS: National Book Award finalist, 1998, Battlefield: Farming a Civil War Battleground.
Battlefield: Farming a Civil War Battleground, Faber and Faber (Boston, MA), 1992.
Preservation, Faber and Faber (Boston, MA), 1994.
Washed up with a Broken Heart in Rock Hall (novel), Permanent Press (New York, NY), 2004.
Wrongful Reconciliation: A Budge Moss Novel (sequel to Washed up with a Broken Heart in Rock Hall), Permanent Press (Sag Harbor, NY), 2005.
SIDELIGHTS: Peter Svenson is a writer and artist whose first book, Battlefield: Farming a Civil War Battleground, was published after years of writing that went unacknowledged. Svenson is the son of a New York University professor and himself studied political science, planning to be part of John F. Kennedy's New Frontier. When Kennedy was killed in Dallas, Svenson's world changed. He told Washington Post contributor Ken Ringle that "after Dallas all the years of conditioning for fitting in to 'society' and 'progress American-style' just seemed pointless. I've never been one who looks back fondly to Woodstock and all the groovy times. For me the '60s were a period of tremendous disillusionment."
Svenson served two years in the U.S. Navy, then moved to Boston, where he began to write and paint, finding more success selling his paintings than his writing. He earned a master's degree in fine arts at the University of North Carolina, married, and purchased land near Charlottesville, Virginia, where he built his first house. Svenson had always enjoyed the trades—one of his grandfathers had been a plumber—and he built his geodesic dome because of that interest, but also out of economic necessity. In 1979 he sold the house, divorced, and moved to the Shenandoah Valley, where he built a conventional home. When a huge poultry operation was established next door, he moved again and in 1985 bought the land that whoud inspire his book Battlefield.
In Battlefield Svenson recounts his purchase of the forty acres in Virginia upon which, he subsequently discovered, the legendary 1862 Battle of Cross Keys had been fought. As Svenson absorbed the history of the battle, which played an important role in the victory of Stonewall Jackson's defeat of three Union armies totaling twice as many soldiers, he came to understand that the view of the Civil War he understood as a Northerner did not represent the complete picture. The diaries and letters he studied reflected that "almost everyone, North and South, realized that [slavery] … was morally wrong and had to go. But no one could agree on a means and timetable for ending it…. Learning to understand that—that this war had to be fought to let the Union be born—that was a sobering education for me. And more important, I think, a real process of growing up." "It is that process," said Ringle, "that the reader shares in Battlefield as Svenson paces and plants his fields, meditates on machinery and groundhog eradication, and steeps himself in history."
Preservation is Svenson's meditation on why some sites important to our history are memorialized, while others are not. It is also a memoir of his life and an observation on farming and related subjects, like old techniques and machinery, which he uses and collects, the use of chemical herbicides, and the paving of American farmland. Witold Rybczynski wrote in Insight on the News that "the chapters that deal with his introduction to hay-raising and his acquisition of a variety of mechanical equipment are among the best parts of the book: simple, self-conscious without being mawkish and beautifully written."
Green Shingles: At the Edge of the Chesapeake Bay is Svenson's account of his purchase of a rundown bungalow with a magnificent view that he and his wife renovated. He also comments about his attempts to sell his landscape paintings and provides a history of the area that was an elaborate retreat for residents of Baltimore. A Publishers Weekly reviewer wrote that "Svenson writes with a quiet grace and is at his most eloquent when expressing his concern for the environment."
Svenson's debut novel, Washed up with a Broken Heart in Rock Hall, finds fifty-five-year-old struggling writer Budge Moss living in a rented cottage with his cat after his successful wife leaves him to fend for himself. In addition to writing and trying to stay financially afloat, Budge becomes preoccupied with meeting and bedding women, including those he meets at potluck dinners and meetings of the Sunset Club. A Kirkus Reviews contributor noted that when Budge eventually acknowledges that he is aging, he "embraces a triumphant feminist awareness that finally readies him for a relationship with a real adult more or less his own age."
In the sequel, Wrongful Reconciliation: A Budge Moss Novel, Budge has met Matty, a loving women with resources and a house in a gated community. While she loves him, Budge still longs for his soon-to-be-ex wife, who shows up to invite him to accompany her on a road trip to California. He agrees, and they fall into their old pattern of bickering. When she eventually invites him to join her in bed, it is with "with such breathtaking callousness that old Budge will win miles of sympathy from even the stoniest feminist reader," commented a Kirkus Reviews contributor.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Svenson, Peter, Battlefield: Farming a Civil War Battleground, Faber and Faber (Boston, MA), 1992.
Svenson, Peter, Preservation, Faber and Faber (Boston, MA), 1994.
Svenson, Peter, Green Shingles: At the Edge of the Chesapeake Bay, Faber and Faber (New York, NY), 1999.
Insight on the News, August 1, 1994, Witold Rybczynski, review of Preservation, p. 28.
Kirkus Reviews, October 15, 2004, review of Washed up with a Broken Heart in Rock Hall, p. 982; December 15, 2004, review of Wrongful Reconciliation: A Budge Moss Novel, p. 1164.
Publishers Weekly, January 18, 1993, review of Battlefield, p. 457; May 9, 1994, review of Preservation, p. 59; January 18, 1999, review of Green Shingles, p. 321; November 29, 2004, review of Washed up with a Broken Heart in Rock Hall, p. 25.
Washington Post, November 16, 1993, Ken Ringle, review of Battlefield and interview, p. B1.