A New Series: One Minute Reviews of
Books by Vermont Authors
Laura's column "One Minute Reviews" has appeared bi-weekly in Wilmington, Vermont's Deerfield Valley News since 2015. In April 2018, she found that no Vermont periodical consistently reviews all commercially published fiction and non-fiction by Vermont authors, so she started a series to fill that void. Published reviews from that series and some earlier reviews of local authors are listed with links to a scan of the printed copy. Reviews still in queue are listed without links until they appear in print.
Deerfield Valley News, 5/6/2021
Working Hard at Work Worth Doing
Kimberly B. Cheney, A Lawyer's Life to Live: A Memoir. Rootstock Publishing, 2021
When Kim Cheney reached his "intended retirement age" (eighty) and "contemplated what was to come," he decided to write a memoir about his life as a Vermont lawyer. He didn't know how to write a book, but no matter: he enrolled in a writing class, talked to fellow writers, consulted local historians, and got started. As his story unfolds, readers learn that the memoir is only the latest project that made Cheney learn new skills quickly so he could master new complexities. As a twenty-four-year-old Naval officer, he was temporarily in charge of a ship suddenly confronted by a head wind that made it impossible to stay on course; he quickly figured out that turning the boat 180 degrees off-course, then swinging it into the wind would solve the problem. While at Yale Law School, he became head of a New Haven group determined to stop the Connecticut Highway Department from constructing a connection to I-91 through East Rock Park; though he'd had no experience in public policy, he organized a state-wide movement that eventually resulted in a law that preserved not only East Rock but dozens of other parks in the state.
Cheney came to Montpelier in 1967 to become the Vermont Education Department's first full-time lawyer. He had no experience in public education; but after some study he drafted a series of clear proposals that, when they became law, replaced the unclear and conflicting statutes for the governance of Vermont schools. Subsequently, he became Washington County state's attorney—and thus thrown into "unfamiliar criminal justice issues" like violent crime and the escalating war on drugs. Having developed these skills by 1972, he learned yet another: campaigning. His hard work again was rewarded; he was elected Vermont Attorney General, succeeding James Jeffords. Unfortunately, in the wake of Watergate and the Nixon's resignation, Cheney, like many other Republican candidates, faced disgusted citizens who simply didn't vote; he lost re-election by 567 votes. Starting afresh once again as a private lawyer, he helped create laws to improve labor relations and child custody arrangements. It's an amazing career.
The central 15 chapters pages of the 20-chapter memoir are concerned with the years 1968-74, which cover Cheney's arrival in Vermont and his expanding role in Vermont's political and legal events. Besides being a compelling portrait of a brilliant young lawyer determined to help the people he serves, his story illuminates the enormous changes in Vermont's atmosphere as the Vietnam War and reaction against staid 1950s assumptions attracted hundreds of "unorthodox" young people to the state. Tangentially related to this influx of new citizens was the notorious case of police corruption known as the Paul Lawrence Affair. Lawrence was a bad cop working as an undercover narcotics agent; he framed over a hundred young people on drug charges. As Cheney learned too late, Lawrence's contamination of justice included the people to whom, as Attorney General, he had delegated investigations. Cheney's continued regret about his failure to understand the depth and breadth of Lawrence's corrupt influence is a refreshing study in humility. Here, as in his brief but profound remarks on the difficulties of his personal life and his work to make them better, he exemplifies his agreement with Theodore Roosevelt's remark: "working hard at work worth doing is one of the great pleasures of life." A reader doesn't need to be a lawyer to admire the energy, intelligence and morality with which Cheney has worked in both private and public capacities. It's inspirational to all of us.