Leapfrog Press, ISBN 978-0981514871
September 1, 2009, 327 pages
Many of us have slightly romantic ideas of Maine..and no, you are not going to take mine away from me.
But we know the reality, like the reality of every place, is a little different.
Lobstering is a hard life, a hard way to make a living. There is the weather, often harsh, the work, back breaking and dangerous. The prices may fall, or the lobsters disappear, but the bills are still due. The boat needs repairs, your friend gets arrested, the lifelong fights with your father go on and on. And there are the trap wars, going back generations, agreements about who can put their traps where, with those that try to push the limits ending up with their gear at the bottom of the ocean..or worse.
But this is Jamie Eugley's life, like his father and his father before him. He is a lobsterman and things are hard.
I will warn you, from the beginning you know this story can not have a happy ending.
Jamie has not only the daily grind of the work and the sometimes careful dance of dealing with his friends and family and his neighbors, but he also has taken on himself the burden of caring for his brain injured girlfriend Anja.
He feels responsible for the accident that caused her injury...it will be well into the book when we find out what happened and you can decide yourself how much guilt he should bear...and has taken care of her though the last three years of her painstakingly slow recovery. Perhaps a tiny part of him hopes that someday the beautiful young school teacher, the talented artist he was about to propose to will return, hidden now in the almost child-like Anja he cares for. Maybe the saddest part of the books are our views into Anja thoughts, her own glimpses of clarity, the relentless return of the fog that clouds her days.
Jamie is a loyal man, but as the pressures of work build, as he meets Happy Klein, a mate on a tourist schooner up from Key West for the summer, he dares to glimpse another future, away from his history, away from his responsibilities. But to grasp at it he will have to abandon who he believes he is...and who we come to believe he is.
But hold on, I don't want to paint too grim a picture here. At times the book is very funny, some of Jamie's friends quite amusing. It is a gritty life, with ways too many DUIs, maybe because the local bar is their one refuge but one and all, they are a great cast of characters. I particularly enjoyed the description of a trip up the coast a bit that Jamie takes with one of his friends to a party in Camden. It brilliantly shows us the differences in the worlds of the natives vs. the privileged summer folk, quite entertaining.
Stephens, for whom this is her debut novel, has a excellent ear and the dialogue, as in all of the book, is spot on.
These characters will be so real to you, the story so authentic, you will be on the edge of your seat hoping against hope that somehow it will all work our happily for everyone, yet knowing it can not.
Personally, I could not put it down, reading it straight through in one day. The ending is just a little heartbreaking, yes. But you will just have to know how it will all play out, so you will happily read on..and maybe shed a few tears at the ending.
Excellent book, highly recommended.
My thanks to the author for providing a copy in hope of a review.