SUMMER, 1939A TIME OF TWO TRIALS
Ann L. McLaughlin's novel is inspired by historypublic and personal
In 1939, labor leader Harry Bridges was charged with belonging to the Communist Party, and was brought to trial on Angel Island, in the San Francisco Bay. The trial, officially called a deportation hearing, was presided over by James M. Landis, Dean of the Harvard Law School. Landis, the judge or trial examiner, determined that the government had failed to prove Bridges was a Communist, and Bridges was allowed remain in the United States and continue his work as a union organizer.
Novelist Ann L. McLaughlin's new novel, A Trial in Summer, draws on this celebrated episode in the history of the American labor movement. The story has been fictionalized, and the names have been changed. The labor leader in the novel is named Sam Hale, and
the trial examiner is Zachariah Bronson. But the setting, the City of San Francisco, is described very much as it was, from the heights of Nob Hill all the way down the California Street cable car to the docks and bars of the Embarcadero, where the atmosphere was a tinderbox of labor unrest.
At the center of the novel is Lorie Bronson, a seventeen-year-old girl with high ideals, a camera, and a desire to emulate Dorothea Lang and photograph the poor and angry victims of the Depression. Lorie is the daughter of Zachariah Bronson, who warns her to stay away from the Embarcadero docks, not only for her own safety but also for the integrity of his trial. But such a warning has the same effect as telling Eve to shun the apple, or telling Pandora to forget what's inside the box. Lorie's relationship with her father is a teenage struggle with authority, a rite of passage, and another kind of trial for this girl on the verge of finding her adult self.
A Trial in Summer is fiction, and the details of the story have been changed or invented, including the characters and the progress of the trial. However, the author has done her homework as a historical novelist; she has captured and portrayed not only the cityscape of San Francisco in 1939, but also the social, economic, and political struggles of the Depression Era. She also writes with authority about the charismatic trial examiner of the novel, Lorie's father. Ann L. (for Landis) McLaughlin is the daughter of James M. Landis, who presided over the 1939 Harry Bridges deportation hearing.
Ann L. McLaughlin is the author of six highly acclaimed novels, Lightning in July, The Balancing Pole, Sunset at Rosalie, Maiden Voyage, The House on Q Street, and Leaving Bayberry House. She lives in Chevy Chase, Maryland, and teaches at the Writer's Center in Bethesda.