For a brief time in mid-nineteenth century Oneida, New York, two of the most eccentric and fascinating figures in American history crossed paths when troubled soul and soon-to-be presidential assassin Charles Guiteau threw in his lot with John Humphrey Noyes’s utopian community of “free love” believers.
In The Substance of Things Hoped For, Tom Noyes—a distant relative of John Humphrey Noyes—renders this historical intersection by deftly imagining the dynamics and consequences of an ominous and unusual relationship.
As Guiteau stumbles further into madness and eventually achieves infamy for his murder of President Garfield, John Humphrey Noyes is left to face the consequences of his own missteps and misunderstandings as he’s forced to make a hasty exit from Oneida.
Joining Noyes and Guiteau in their parallel narratives are a chorus of other characters—family members, lovers, rivals, notable historical figures—whose haunting voices complement, undermine, complicate, and enhance Noyes’s and Guiteau’s versions of events, while also homing in on the novel’s most pressing questions, including those related to revelation, delusion, loyalty, and love.
You can’t reimagine and reanimate a history this vividly, memorably, hilariously, and wrenchingly without knowing it, understanding it, deep in your bones. You can’t do it without being a writer of dazzling gifts, either. The Substance of Things Hoped For is, quite simply, a brilliant novel. It’s one of the best I’ve read this year.
Clare Beams, author of The Illness Lesson
Narrated by a chorus of arresting voices, this remarkably beautiful novel is a fascinating exploration of faith, an excavation of history, and an evocation of the desires and debates that can both weave together and unravel a community.
Caitlin Horrocks, author of The Vexations
It’s hard enough for a writer to pilot us through the lives of their characters, but what Tom Noyes manages to do with the ache and pull of time, not to mention the human elements of love, hope, despair, faith, and loss, is nothing short of an incredible achievement. The Substance of Things Hoped For is awe-inspiring work and we are all the better for having it.
Jared Yates Sexton, author of The People Are Going to Rise Like the Waters Upon Your Shore
The past is the present in Tom Noyes’s The Substance of Things Hoped For. Faith, family, fate, freedom: Noyes’s always lively nineteenth-century tale shows us who we were then, in convincing historical detail, while simultaneously reminding us in powerful chunks of chiseled prose of who we are today. An engrossing novel.
Ray Robertson, author of Estates Large and Small