What do you get when you mix fact, fiction, fantasy, history, deception, decadence, ego, affluence, and ambition? You get madness! In this case–Thomas William Simpson’s remarkable novel This Way Madness Lies, a literary debut of enormous exuberance and daring imagination.
Wild Bill Winslow, 70, falls down the back stairs of the old family mansion in Far Hills, NJ. During the fall he breaks a few bones, questions his sanity and his immortality, and knocks himself cold. He’s discovered, broken and battered, by sweet Evangeline, who rushes him to the hospital. When Wild Bill comes around he asks his young mistress to summon his wayward children and his petulant second wife…
And so begins Simpson’s darkly comic tale of the Winslow dynasty and their New World adventure. With a grand cast of eccentric characters from both past and present, Simpson weaves a family saga laced with religion and rebellion, murder and mayhem, alcohol and drugs, infidelity and true love, and enough wars to make even the most peaceful Americans think twice about their heritage.
Wild Bill has nine offspring, some dead, most still among the living. Actors, ex-pats, playboys, forest rangers, full-blooded psychotics–they are a supremely alienated lot; alienated from Dear Old Dad, from one another, from the harsh glare of reality. They move through life like refugees from the womb.
One by one these tortured souls make their way home to the family manse. None of them are sure what they will find. Over the course of one of the wildest family reunions ever chronicled, one young Winslow will plot murder, another will commune with the dead, and all will become players in the larger drama of a family on the brink of collapse.
But the Winslow clan, like America itself, is a resilient lot. Since moving from the Old World to the New countless generations ago, they have survived shipwrecks, Indian attacks, economic ruin, marital dissolution, and more wars than any of them care to count. But they’re still standing, still battling, still searching for that elusive American Dream.
This Way Madness Lies draws on this present generation of Winslows in a search for clues about the origins of the family’s madness. What emerges is a fable of inevitability and fate; a story all at once compelling, comical, and deeply disturbing for it touches that place where we are all most vulnerable–family.
The Winslows may not be every American family, but strip away their swagger and their armor and what remains is the blood and guts of the American Experience–if such a fairytale still exists.