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In Suosso’s Lane, journalist and creative writer Robert Knox revisits a forgotten period in the history of Plymouth, Massachusetts, "America's hometown," when immigrant factory workers struggled to make their way in an America of long hours and low wages. The book traces the circumstances that led to the notorious trial and widely protested executions of Nicola Sacco and Plymouth dweller Bartolomeo Vanzetti, targeted by local authorities for their radical beliefs, and framed for a factory payroll robbery and the shooting deaths of two security guards.
In this fictionalized account, Knox examines the case through the eyes of a young, inquisitive history scholar, who moves to Plymouth for a teaching job, and discovers he is living in the time-worn home on Suosso’s Lane where Vanzetti once received room and board from an Italian immigrant family. His interest whetted by this coincidence, the history teacher explores the local background of a miscarriage of justice that shocked the world. Coupling the historical record with a reporter's instinct and significant helpings of fictional invention, Knox weaves a contemporary tale of intrigue, crime, prejudice, and an affair of the heart that sheds new light on the most controversial political trial of the 20th century.
Suosso's Lane moves from the defining moments of the Sacco-Vanzetti case, the 1920 factory payroll robbery-murder and the 1927 execution, to a recreation of life in America's industrial age. Concurrently, the author introduces 21st-century characters who take up the challenge of digging into the past to learn what they can of Vanzetti's life in Plymouth, and seek evidence to exonerate him from the crime. Intrigued by questions raised by the case's evidence -- What were Sacco and Vanzetti really doing on the night of their arrest? Why were they carrying guns? -- history teacher Mill Becker encounters a local reporter conducting a similar investigation into a cold-case murder in which "Red" anarchists may have also played a part.
The novel's present mirrors the past in its exploration of social issues, such as the racial profiling of immigrants, and the demonization of critics who challenge a status quo that serves the "one percent" while exploiting those who labor by the hour. While historian Becker researches the bias faced in America by early-20th-century immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe -- Italians, Jews, Poles, Russians -- his wife struggles to keep a new American from Africa employed in a minimum-wage, year-2000 economy.
Contemporary life in historic Plymouth is depicted by worshipers of the hallowed Pilgrim past, conspiracy theorists, the prosperous descendants of once despised immigrants, exploitive developers, and hard-eyed local cops. The old town also houses descendants of courageous suffragists, sharp-eyed librarians, nosy reporters, and people with a hunger to right old wrongs.
But on Suosso's Lane, the muddy lane where Vanzetti once lived among Italian factory workers and their families, the injustices of the past still vie for recognition amid the town's monuments to the Pilgrim past, with their darker view of the American Dream and bigger hopes for its future.
Knox's novel offers a new, sympathetic profile of Vanzetti, a spokesmen for a more inclusive and compassionate way of life. A humble man of the people, self-educated, talkative, a lover of children and nature, Vanzetti carried his love for the pastoral Italy of his childhood into his search for a just and humane new world. Compassionate to a fault, could the same man who gave away his only pair of shoes to a fellow worker laboring outside during the cold New England winter have robbed factory workers of their hard-earned pay?
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