After a long, successful career as the author of an esoteric newspaper column, “Rambling With Milton,” Jock Petitte finds himself unfulfilled and at loose ends. Two failed marriages have not diminished his romantic ideals or his youthful desire to become an actor, so he begins to compose one-man plays based upon historical events and to perform them at senior centers and retirement homes.
Prudence Rogers, beautiful and intelligent, has struggled with clinical depression and chronic anxiety throughout her life. When Jock meets her at the rehabilitation facility where she is recovering from an overdose and he is performing a Christmas play, he is instantly smitten. Rambling with Milton is the deeply touching story of their romance and their attempt to save each other and themselves.
Rambling with Milton opens with a most unique dedication, which informs readers that the book was inspired by and contains excerpts from Senator Charles Sumner’s “Rape of Kansas” speech on the Senate Floor in 1856. This speech, also known as the “Crime of Kansas” speech, was delivered by Sumner in response to what was called the “Bleeding Kansas” crisis, a series of deadly disputes over the boundaries and slavery-related policies of Kansas. (There’s a lot of history here, and I went way down the rabbit hole on Wikipedia reading up on the context.) Sumner, a fiery abolitionist, specifically denounced one specific (and influential) slave-holder, who happened to be directly related to another senator, Preston Brooks, who went the extra mile in supporting South Carolina’s own official stance on politics––by viciously attacking Sumner on the Senate floor and stopping barely short of killing Sumner. The incident helped inflame the intense emotions and political devisions of the wider American population in the years leading up to the Civil War. The event was considered symbolic in 1856, and Richard Siciliano utilizes excerpts from Sumner’s speech symbolically in Rambling with Milton in 2020.
With such an opening, you can be certain that I was hooked … even before I’d started the first page! If there’s something that I love, it’s a great historic textual reference, and even more specifically, a reference to an historic speech, as well as a reference to abolition, the Founding Fathers, and the hard work of shaping a new way of living. That I happen to be rewatching the drama John Adams on dvd with my father for the third time (a number that does not include my own personal private rewatches) is completely incidental. (Ha.)
I am happy to report that Rambling with Milton more than lives up to its source material. And for those coming from the same place as me––not quite convinced that there’s a romance book out there for you––I would argue that this book is the perfect introduction. It’s a beautifully written, incredibly detailed, and thoroughly compelling novel about triumphing in the midst of a truly difficult moment of life. It follows many characters, but centers on Prudence and Jock, who meet when he is living the life of a starving artist, performing one-man plays at community centers like retirement homes––and rehabilitation facilities. It is at one of these rehabilitation facilities where he stumbles across Prudence, a patient recovering from an overdose. He, an author whose bestseller days are far behind them, connects with her, a former librarian who remembers having seen his book on one of the library’s displays, and read his newspaper column “Rambling with Milton”––way back in the days before they became who they are at the book’s start: two people very far from the golden days of youth.
But, having found each other, they also find that their lives are filled with opportunities they had never before expected, and that there is still the possibility of finding joy, no matter how difficult the present moment. Having found each other, they find a way forward. What follows is itself a bit of a ramble, but a pleasant and delightful one, one that elevates “ramble” to the heights of a slow-but-steady romance of the highest quality. It is a romance that cares about its characters, and in so doing, convinces its readers to love them as well. And that’s the kind of romance I can unabashedly and publicly recommend.
I think I’ve mentioned before in one of my reviews that I am somewhat at sea when it comes to reviewing romance novels, simply because I haven’t read many of them to date. For many years, I steered clear deliberately, thinking that the genre was limited when it came to the literary qualities that I look for in books, but I have since learned that even old dogs can learn to like new genres, and to both honor and celebrate the sheer diversity of books and qualities that appear in and are specific to the romance genre. All of this is an awkward way of explaining that: if a romance novel impresses me, the grumpy hermit with a really high bar when it comes to new things and changing my mind about something, it truly is an exceptional book.
A well-plotted romance with more than the average novel’s quality of backstory and character development, Rambling with Milton is a thoughtful look at everything that can go wrong in a life––and everything that can go right.
WHERE TO BUY?
You can find Rambling with Milton wherever good books are sold, including Barnes & Noble and Amazon. You can also find out more about Richard Siciliano’s work on the book’s Outskirts Press author page.
I’m excited to report that I’m making progress on another self-published book, this one a book for children on the theme of the Nativity: Stella the Rejected Star, by Marc McCormack. I’m as charmed by the book’s backstory as I am by its content, and I love both a good Christmas storybook for kids and a kids book celebrating empathy. This is one I’m excited to review next, just before Christmas proper!
I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
* Courtesy of Barnes & Noble book listing.