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  • Writer's pictureNora Curry

Maine Debuts

It's no secret: Mainers tend to be pretty proud of Maine authors. From the world of children's books to crime fiction to history, Maine writers are celebrated and prolific. In the last few months, four Maine authors have published their first novels (loosely classified as literary fiction) to wide critical acclaim and popular recognition. Book Talk by the Sea featured a review of Meredith Hall's tour de force debut novel Beneficence back in January, and today I'm bringing your three more to round out a quartet of place-based Maine novels for your reading pleasure. Read a bit about these books below and click on the links if you'd like to request them from our catalog!

The Lowering Days, Gregory Brown

A summary from the publisher:

"Growing up, David Almerin Ames and his brothers, Link and Simon, thought of the wild patch of Maine where they lived along the Penobscot River as theirs. Running down the state like a spine, the river shared its name with the people of the Penobscot Nation, whose ancestral territory included the entire Penobscot watershed, the land upon which the Ames family eventually made their home.

The brothers’ affinity for the natural world derives from their iconoclastic parents, Arnoux, a romantic artist and Vietnam War deserter who builds boats by hand, and Falon, an activist journalist who runs The Lowering Days, a community newspaper that gives equal voice to indigenous and white issues.

But the boys’ childhood dreamscape is shattered when a Penobscot teenager sets fire to a shuttered area paper mill on the eve of its possible reopening in an act of defiance seeking to protect the land from further harm. The fire reveals a stark truth for the residents of the Penobscot Valley. For many, the mill is a lifeline, providing working class jobs they need to survive. Within the Penobscot Nation, the mill brings only heartache, spewing toxic chemicals and wastewater products that poison the river’s fish and plants.

Call it criminal mischief or environmental justice, the fire sets loose a series of long-simmering grievances, ending in a cycle of violence that tears apart the community and two families and changes the trajectory of David's life."

"Brown’s debut novel weaves together the lush setting of the Penobscot River in Maine and disparate characters struggling to coexist on a verdant, alluring land." - Booklist

"Brown’s dynamic debut shines a light on a small town’s fraught history in Maine’s Penobscot River valley... Lyrical and gorgeously written, Brown’s memorable outing does justice to a complicated web of issues." - Publishers Weekly

"A novel of place, myth, and clashing loyalties set in 1980s Penobscot, Maine... Mystical, gripping, rooted in the land—Brown may bang a little too hard on the keys, but he plays a compelling tune." - Kirkus Reviews

Beneficence, Meredith Hall

A summary from the publisher:

"When they meet in the 1930s, Doris and Tup’s love is immediate. They marry quickly and Doris commits to the only life Tup ever wanted: working the Senter family farm, where his parents and grandparents and great-grandparents are buried under the old pines. Their lives follow the calming rhythms of the land—chores in the cow barn, haying the fields, tending their gardens—and in this they find immeasurable joy.

Soon their first child, Sonny, is born and Doris and Tup understand they are blessed. More children arrive—precocious, large-hearted Dodie and quiet, devoted Beston—but Doris and Tup take nothing for granted. They are grateful every day for the grace of their deep bonds to each other, to their family, and to their bountiful land. As they hold fast to this contentment, Doris is uneasy, and confesses, “We can’t ever know what will come."

When an unimaginable tragedy turns the family of five into a family of four, everything the Senters held faith in is shattered. The family is consumed by a dark shadow of grief and guilt. Slowly, the surviving Senters must find their way to forgiveness—of themselves and of each other."

"Hall’s simple, profound tale and clear prose is particularly reminiscent of the quietly rendered life cycles and enduring relationships (and the plain, beautiful writing) in another book, also set on a Maine farm: E. B. White’s children’s classic Charlotte’s Web ... transcendent." - New York Journal of Books

"Beneficence is a glorious book, its joy as quietly beautiful as the tragedy at its center echoes loudly through the lives of its characters. Hall acknowledges that each life is very small, on its own, but that the love we each bear for one another is immense, our capacity for it endless." - Portland Press Herald

"...delicate, poignant ... Spare but decked with moments of crystalline beauty, the book’s descriptions of farming the Maine countryside are authentic and enchanting. There are no ostentatious displays, and so the novel’s magnificence sneaks up ... gorgeous and moving." - Foreword Reviews

Margreete's Harbor, Eleanor Morse

A summary from the publisher:

A literary novel set on the coast of Maine during the 1960s, tracing the life of a family and its matriarch as they negotiate sharing a home. Margreete’s Harbor tells the story of thirteen years in the history of a family: a novel of small moments, intimate betrayals, arrivals and disappearances that coincide with America from the mid-1950s through the turbulent 1960s. Liddie, a professional cellist, struggles to find space for her music in a marriage that increasingly confines her; Harry’s critical approach to the growing war in Vietnam endangers his new position as a high school history teacher; Bernie and Eva begin to find their own identities as young adults; and Margreete slowly descends into a private world of memories, even as she comes to find a larger purpose in them. This beautiful novel―attuned to the seasons of nature, the internal dynamics of a family, and a nation torn by its contradicting ideals―reveals the largest meanings in the smallest and most secret moments of life."

"... the family at the center of Peaks Islander Eleanor Morse’s rather exquisite fourth novel finds that, even in the far reaches of Maine, it can be hard to hear grace notes above the roar of social turmoil ... " - Portland Press Herald

"Morse’s engrossing new novel charts the transitions of a family set against the shifting social landscapes of 1960s America... Morse weaves an entrancing tale that explores the intricacies of familial, social, and personal transformation and the lingering mystery of what may come." - Booklist

Eleanor Morse’s precise, patient prose captivates from page one... Full of love, triumph and a boatload of heartbreak, Margreete’s Harbor is a celebration of life’s inevitable messiness. As after any good visit with family or dear friends, you will leave feeling satisfied while yearning for more." - Bookpage

The Northern Reach, W.S. Winslow

A summary from the publisher:

"Frozen in grief after the loss of her son at sea, Edith Baines stares across the water at a schooner, under full sail yet motionless in the winter wind and surging tide of the Northern Reach. Edith seems to be hallucinating. Or is she? Edith’s boat-watch opens “The Northern Reach,” set in the fictional town of Wellbridge on the Maine coast, where townspeople squeeze a living from the perilous bay or scrape by on the largesse of the summer folk and whatever they can cobble together, salvage, or grab.

At the center of town life is the Baines family, land-rich, cash-poor descendants of town founders, along with the ne’er-do-well Moody clan, the Martins of Skunk Pond, and the dirt farming, bootlegging Edgecombs. Over the course of the twentieth century, the families intersect, interact, and intermarry, grappling with secrets and prejudices that span generations, opening new wounds and reckoning with old ghosts."

"Uneven and very slow to gather momentum but worth the effort for admirers of serious literary fiction." - Kirkus Reviews

"All the more impressive when considering that “The Northern Reach” is author W. S. Winslow’s debut as a novelist, her genuine flair for the kind of narrative storytelling style that fully entertains and engages the reader’s attention bodes well for establishing her as a literary figure to watch for. Exceptionally well crafted against an inherently fascinating and varied social/culture background…especially and unreservedly recommended." - Midwest Book Review

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