J. Robert Lennon’s newest novel, “Happyland,” is inspired by the story of American Girl magnate Pleasant Rowland and her controversial $40 million gift to Wells College in Aurora, N.Y., a lakeside community north of Ithaca, to revitalize the downtown area and help increase college enrollment. The book was released Oct. 1.
But the similarities to the true story stop there.
“People in Aurora kept sending me news clippings,” said Lennon, associate professor of English. “And I’d throw them away.”
Intrigued by Rowland’s story, Lennon came up with one of his own about a doll magnate and her efforts to “take over” a small town. He sold the idea to publisher W.W. Norton, which later backed out, Lennon thinks, because it feared a lawsuit from Rowland.
Harper’s Magazine, however, published an abridged version of the book in serial form in 2006. This week’s e-book release includes the unabridged story. Lennon said he is also working with a screenwriter friend to turn the story into a pilot for a television series.
Since “Happyland” is being published only in e-book form, Lennon hasn’t planned any book signings. “Where would I go and what would I sign?” he said. “Although I hear that Apple is coming up with a way to autograph e-books.”
But the book isn’t Lennon’s only recent release. His band, The Starry Mountain Sweetheart Band, also has a new album, so he’s been working on the release party for that.
Lennon is also the author of a story collection, “Pieces for the Left Hand,” and seven novels, including “Mailman” and “Familiar.” A second short story collection, “See You in Paradise,” is set to come out next year.
Kathy Hovis is a writer for the College of Arts and Sciences.