Afraid of Goosequills

The Wit & Wisdom of Neil Hummasti

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Literary Assessment

Neil Hummasti wrote well over a half million words intended for publication. He wrote novels, short stories, theological tracts, essays, and fragments of a memoir and play. It is possible he was the most prolific Pacific Northwest author of his generation and yet almost entirely unread in his lifetime. After his death in 2011, he left no instructions on what he wanted done with his manuscripts, but his brother Arnie felt they deserved publication.

Arnie was right. Neil was a writer of immense talent and astonishing range who left behind a treasure trove of words brimming with keen observations, insights and critiques of American families and institutions. This talent was recognized by some in the publishing industry. Neil's comic novel of a Washington (state) family vacationing across Europe, I See London, I See France was nearly accepted by several New York publishers in 2000-01. The deals fell through and Neil abandoned that project and turned to his teaching career and care taking of his elderly aunt who suffered from dementia as inspiration for his next novel, Forty Ways to Square a Circle, the title an allusion to Dante's Divine Comedy. Neil passed away before trying to interest an agent or publisher in this work. Neil did find some success with his short stories and placed at least six of them in various reviews and publications. His other writing included a Christian novel set in ancient Rome under Nero's reign and two theological tracts. (These three books will be published by Svensen Pioneer Press in 2019.)

Astoria-Megler Bridge
Astoria-Megler Bridge

Much of Neil's fiction is infused with a rigorous sense of the Pacific Northwest (west of the Cascade Range). Its flora and fauna abound in the narratives. The Columbia River looms large in the life of many of Neil's characters and his descriptions about the prodigious rain that falls on coastal Oregon reflects the experience of a writer who had lived with it for most of his life and understood its effect on people and the landscape. Another distinguishing characteristic of Neil's storytelling is the great empathy often on display for the elderly and the health struggles many of them face as they age. The level of erudition displayed in Neil's novels often dazzles the reader. He had a scholar's knowledge of Renaissance literature, an obvious love of Shakespeare, and a seemingly inexhaustible supply of unique words in his vocabulary. Neil possessed a profound wit as well, and sprinkled puns and asides on many pages. As a writer, he wanted a reader to laugh at times and he succeeded. He also invites a reader to feel, think and wonder at the world, where it is going, where it had been.