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Neil Hummasti's two literary novels I See London, I See France and Forty Ways to Square a Circle contain striking similarities and oceanic differences. Their similarities lie mostly in the presentation of withering cultural critique and comedic tone. In London, the comedy is total, occasionally slapstick and assured in the narrator's wry first person voice. In Forty Ways, the comedy is intermittent, hovering at the edges of the plot and themes, and relayed in the third person. The differences in the novels lie in their scope and lens.
In London, the subject is a dysfunctional American family abroad on a European vacation while the young protagonist tries to sleuth out a mystery to save his father. Neil's lens as a writer was trained on the family and their hilarious interactions with one another and exploits with their foreign hosts. The novel is meant to delight and it does exactly that. In Forty Ways, the subject is the debasement of the American public high school and the craft of teaching by (the then nascent) computer technology and Philistinism by the administration. It is also about the narrator's struggle to care for an elderly aunt suffering with dementia, a topic rarely explored in literature at the time Neil completed the novel. His lens as a writer moves around in Forty Ways, often in closeup, but it also retreats at times for a larger wide-angle view of institutions and the deep feelings many people secret away.
Neil wrote a rollicking query letter to a New York literary agent in hope of representation for London. It succeeded. Ultimately, the novel was rejected by publishers but Neil garnered remarkable praise for his efforts and publishers' comments are included. Neil came as close as a writer can to landing the coveted book deal.
Neil also wrote an illuminating query letter for Forty Ways and left behind copious notes on his ideas and goals for the book. They are included in their entirety on the the link to that novel. What better way to learn about this remarkable book about teaching, caring, noticing, living and loving than from the words of Neil Hummasti?