All That Will Remain
"Astute and affecting." - Kirkus Reviews
It’s 1914, and the Lyle family, like the United States itself, is at a crossroads. Malcolm Lyle, no engineering genius like his father, Colin, who founded the Keystone Steam Works, must decide whether to devote the company’s resources to a lucrative war project, or to back his son, Augustus, in the development of the steam-powered Lylemobile. Meanwhile, he learns that his youngest son, John Lincoln, has gone off unannounced to join a multinational effort to fight the Kaiser’s invasion of Europe, and that the boy’s unmarried twin sister, Mary Lydia, is pregnant. His wife, Missy, is no help, content to lie around in her peignoirs reading women’s magazines and eating bonbons. His steely eighty-nine-year-old Mother, Libby, watches Malcolm with what he believes is an unapproving eye. Then there is Libby’s Caribbean maid, Perpetual, an impenetrable figure with a room full of medicinal plants and an indelible, irrepressible spirit, who has become the axis around whom the Lyle household revolves.
Here’s a video introduction to the mill town of Furnass.
Reviews, Extra Scenes, etc.
ALL THAT WILL REMAIN centers around the Lyle family, who lives in a small mill town in Pennsylvania in 1916.
It’s 1916, and America is on the cusp of rapid change, some will seize the opportunity, others will cling to a past soon good for nothing other than fond, and frequently false, memories. Keystone Steam Works has an international reputation for building steampowered machines like mobile well-drillers, steam shovels and tractors. They even have a prototype of a steam-powered automobile called the Lylemobile. The family-owned business, now run by third-generation Malcolm Lyle, has been one of the primary employers in the Furnass, a small town on the banks of the Ohio River. This distinction and wealth amassed by the company have afforded the family privilege and prestige, but that status, like the future of the company is threatened by changing social conventions and advancing technology. Poor personal choices, business decisions and circumstances have left the family rife with drama and enduring moral decay and the business unprepared for the challenges of a new era. One character, who has mistakenly married into the family describes them as “… a collection of fools, a family whose values were based on pretense and delusion, self-deception and ignorance, a family who lacked true refinement and intelligence.” Financial salvation presents itself in the form of a government contract to produce military tanks using steam technology. It would mean retooling the company and discontinuing the production of the Lylemobile, thus crushing his son’s dream of competing with the new gasoline-powered vehicles. Malcolm’s decision will seal the fate of the company and his family.
The central figure in ALL THAT WILL REMAIN, this circus of human folly is Perpetual, a Caribbean woman indentured by Malcolm’s father to look after the health and the interests of the matriarch of the family, his wife, Libby. Through subtle manipulation, strength of will, essential service that embodies love and even medicinal herbal remedies, this enigmatic figure benignly controls the domestic life of the entire Lyle family. Told from multiple points of view, author Richard Snodgrass introduces a host of well-defined characters whose vulnerabilities, though human, manifest into a spiral of delusion and defeat and lack the courage and strength to extricate themselves. The narrative is interspersed with passages of untethered streams of consciousness that flow effortlessly and seamlessly with intoxicating effect.
IR Verdict: Author Richard Snodgrass’s masterful prose immerses the reader in a story that is layered and nuanced, with well-researched glimpses of history and mores of a bygone time. Lyrical and dreamlike, ALL THAT WILL REMAIN explores human character and how it’s shaped by position, wealth and, most importantly, family.
The Lyle family, once the most influential family in Furnass, Pennsylvania, own Keystone Steam Works, an internationally renowned company that predates the Civil War. Not only have a series of disgraces sullied their name, they’ve also incurred multiple financial setbacks—a predicament the patriarch of the family, Malcolm Hayes, hopes to rectify. Representatives of the U.S. government have asked Hayes to develop a new engine for tanks that will eventually be deployed against Germany—the year is 1916—a contract that could be their “financial salvation.” Meanwhile, Malcolm’s son, Gus, assumes the “grave responsibility” of discovering who impregnated his half sister, Mary Lydia, who doesn’t seem to have any paramours. Malcolm suspects the culprit might be her twin brother, John Lincoln, who rushes off to join the war as soon as he learns of her pregnancy. Snodgrass’ gratuitously convoluted tale grows outlandishly soap-operatic: While conducting his investigation, Gus hears the rumor—implausibly for the first time—that his grandfather Colin conspired with the Confederacy during the Civil War, possibly out of deference to the “inborn sympathies” of his grandmother Libby, a Southerner. Moreover, Libby cheated on Colin, both with her doctor, Gene McArtle, in order to procure drugs, and Judson Walker, a Confederate soldier with whom she fell deeply in love. It’s a testament to the author’s meticulousness that these entangled details are not only conveyed intelligibly, but ultimately congeal into a coherent tale that can be both astute and affecting.
For those familiar with Snodgrass’ body of work, the abiding obsession with fictional Furnass is no surprise, and he continues to render it—across different epochs—with extraordinary sensitivity. This novel, like his others, is a literary homage to the kind of locale that forges generations. Also, the author has a keen eye for the salacious dysfunctions of family and the ways loyalty and love can easily morph into transgression. The plot is both melodramatic and complex—Snodgrass insists on layer upon layer of overwrought twists, an approach that weighs down the story and, ultimately, tires the reader. Did Malcolm Hayes kill his wife? In another fictional circumstance, one less packed with tawdry subplots, this would be a more tantalizing possibility. Also, Snodgrass resorts to an exhausting literary device—endless pages of italicized narration communicated in a florid stream-of-consciousness style that pulls readers out of the story rather than inviting them in further: “The woman standing there looking at Perpetual as if to ask her something, but Perpetual says to her as she does each evening, You go on now, Mrs. Lydia, you go to your rest, there’s nothing you can do for these folks now, Perpetual she be here to help, and the woman of luminous fibers nods and turns and begins to dim, fading into the farther reaches of the house, and Perpetual looks around once more to make sure all is well.” These interludes, or interruptions, appear often and seem to drag on interminably.
A thoughtful story undermined by long-winded detours.