By Bridget M. Burns
Excerpt from our August 2022 issue
The middle coast
by Adam White
$26, hardcover, Hogarth Books
Home for the summer from his chichi boarding school, Damariscotta native Andrew is dismayed to find that his father has got him a job at the (fictitious) Thatch Lobster Pound. The job is grueling and his boss, Ed, only two years his senior, never misses an opportunity to berate Andrew about his relatively cushy upbringing. Andrew is eager to get away from Maine; Ed is quite content to live and work on the mid-coast, as generations of Thatches before him have done. Even before Andrew quits, there is no love lost between the two.
Years later, Andrew returns to Maine with his wife and two children, and is surprised to find that the Thatches have become the wealthiest and most influential family in town. Ed now hangs out with those he once described to Andrew, with disdain, as “your kind of people”, while Andrew has traded his screenwriting dreams for a job as an English teacher. But the murky details of how the Thatch family became wealthy are the subject of much local gossip.
Andrew’s growing obsession with the Thatches reveals an empire of illicit dealings – and rickety ones, at that. The middle coast is a crime drama on the surface, but at heart it’s a study in archetypes, starring two men from the same hometown but from very different backgrounds: blue-collar and white-collar, lobster and lacrosse. White, who grew up in Damariscotta and once worked shifts at the South Bristol Fishermen’s Co-op, asks readers to consider what defines success: material wealth? Education and success? The ability to provide for his family — by any means necessary? The novel offers no easy answers, just a gripping story that balances the monotony of a life lived in safety against the risks and rewards of a less scrupulous path.
The uninvited guest
by Carol Goodman
$29, hardcover, William Morrow
In this gothic page-turner of the pandemic era, 10 years have passed since COVID, and the world is dealing with the spread of a new novel virus. The characters in Goodman’s novel all offer their own theories as to why: society has learned nothing from its past mistakes, the government has failed to prepare and respond, or perhaps, as the most conspiratorial theorizes, the government itself is responsible.
In this anxious atmosphere, seven acquaintances head to a private island off the east coast, planning to quarantine together all summer – maybe longer. Reed Harper, the owner of the island, inherited the summer cottage estate from his parents after they died of (what else?) COVID. Next is his wife, Lucy, the story’s increasingly unhinged protagonist, as well as Reed’s sister and partner, a pair of married friends and the caretaker and native of Mainer Mac, whose late mother once worked for the Harpers.
Stands of spruce and ledges of granite — and the accent is Mac — ground the story in Maine, but the island is clearly otherworldly. There are mysterious Gaelic doodles, a bog that looks more like quicksand than wetlands, and handed down stories of mermaids, selkies and witches. Fever Island (yep) got its name because it served as a quarantine stopover in the 19th century for ships carrying Irish immigrants. Sadly, typhus has taken out most of them, so the island is full of graves – and possibly ghosts.
The uninvited guest is part mystery and part horror, but behind all the genre conventions lies a harrowing exploration of all that the pandemic has put at risk of loss: lives, relationships, and feelings of trust, safety, and normality. . It’s a cinematic supernatural escapism, sure, but it’s also a recognizable depiction of the stress many of us are feeling in the very real post-pandemic world.
by Meg Mitchell Moore
$28, hardcover, William Morrow
Louisa and Kristie both escaped to Owls Head for the summer. Louisa is leaving her cozy home (and rocky marriage) in Brooklyn for a few months at her parents’ charming summer cottage, with three kids in tow, in hopes of finishing the book she took a sabbatical from. a year to write, as well as to spend time with his sick father. Kristie, meanwhile, took the bus from her humble digs in Pennsylvania, searching for a piece of her past, with only a letter from her late mother to guide her.
It’s the configuration of a braided tale that comes together in a fun and interesting, if not outright surprising way. Moore intricately weaves the stories of Louisa and Kristie, with chapters that alternate not only their viewpoints, but also those of other supporting characters, and the shifting perspectives allow us a variety of takes on a Maine summer, from that of a cash-strapped restaurant server to a privileged child fascinated by sea life to a summer person old enough to realize that his idyllic summer getaway has its own secrets.
Of course, there’s a twist, and while you can see it coming, the most engaging parts of the book come after. When holiday country is at its best, it’s a wistful meditation on class, its characters weighing the value of family against the value of money as they make their traditional summer visits to familiar Mainer sights like the Farnsworth Art Museum, Owls Head Light and Wasses Hot Dogs. A surprising number of scenes take place at Renys’ house, in fact, with Moore’s characters taking us through the twists and turns of this “Maine adventure” on the beach.
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