Breaking News

Women and Maine - The New York Times

Category: Art & Culture,Books

Dear Match Book,

I have lived in Maine for 40 years, and belong to a book club in which we’re reading literature with connections to the state. We’ve read several books by male authors (though nothing yet by E. B. White, whom we’d hate to leave out), and now want to turn to the work of female writers. There are lots of great authors who live here; can you suggest some books — contemporary or older, fiction or nonfiction — by women writing about the state?

NANCY ROE
PRESQUE ISLE, ME.

Dear Nancy,

I know enough about Maine and the people who live there to have asked you to distinguish between two types of writers: summer residents or year-rounders? Your open-minded reply — “Either will do” — left my parameters flexible.

True North Detectives

What I didn’t know: Along the rocky coastline and pine forests of Maine’s landscape, a particular literary species thrives — the cozy mystery. Something about the old-fashioned state has caused this particular type of whodunit to mushroom. Some thriller aficionados in your group may prefer the creepier work of the doctor-turned-writer and midcoast resident Tess Gerritsen, especially her novel “Bloodstream,” set in the fictional town of Tranquility. But books in the cozy subgenre, which offer all the satisfaction of procedurals with little of the gore, have their own folksy charms. Examples include (but aren’t limited to!) Lea Wait’s Mainely Needlepoint series and Barbara Ross’s Maine Clambake mysteries. Another writer who mixed food and crime was Virginia Rich, whose 1980s-era “The Baked Bean Supper Murders” features a Miss Marple-ish widowed sleuth named Eugenia Potter, as well as actual recipes.

Speak, Memory

Additional epicurean pleasures lie in “How to Cook a Moose,” a memoir by the novelist Kate Christensen. The book begins with an epigraph — “I would really rather feel bad in Maine than feel good anywhere else,” borrowed from your favorite, E. B. White — which sets the tone, direct and lovely, for Christensen’s delectable personal reflections on cooking (“Wicked-Good Lamb Burgers,” “Soup Kitchen Stir-Fry”) and living in the Pine Tree State.

Two other memoirs evoke their authors’ childhoods — each marked by the death of a parent — with emotional and sensory precision. The pungent mill odor from the Oxford Paper Company wafts through the town of Mexico, Me., and permeates Monica Wood’s memories of her 1960s Catholic girlhood in the aftermath of her father’s sudden death in her book “When We Were the Kennedys.” Tragedy also split the childhood of Sarah Perry into a sweet before and harrowing after. In “After the Eclipse,” Perry recounts the murder of her beautiful red-haired mother, Crystal, which went unsolved for more than a decade.

Village People

Small towns populated by outsize personalities mark the work of two more Down East novelists. Both Carolyn Chute’s “The Beans of Egypt, Maine” and Cathie Pelletier’s “The Funeral Makers” play up their clannish characters’ antic charms while making clear the specific and unique ways their lives have been shaped by rural poverty.

For more understated, internal pleasures turn to two novels about single mothers and their teenage children who seek refuge in small Maine communities. Both Lily King’s “The English Teacher” and Elizabeth Strout’s debut, “Amy and Isabelle,” feature women whose aloofness conceals secrets in their pasts, secrets that drive the novels’ tension.

Teenage Titans

In the Colby College professor Debra Spark’s “Unknown Caller,” a sharply hooked premise and well-conceived structure drive the considerable emotional suspense. Set partly in Maine, the novel tracks the fallout of a 2 a.m. phone call in which a doctor’s ex-wife informs him of the arrival by plane of the 17-year-old daughter he has never met.

Ann Beattie, a summer resident, has always had a way with teenagers — especially girls. And three of her most winning stories in “The State We’re In” follow a delightfully disaffected high schooler named Jocelyn, stuck with her aunt and uncle for the summer, toiling away on a makeup essay on magical realism while she (mostly) ignores the charms of the state’s south coast.

Drenched by the Sea

Finally, there is the collection of sketches that I like to recommend to fans of Sherwood Anderson’s “Winesburg, Ohio.” Sarah Orne Jewett’s late-19th-century gem “The Country of the Pointed Firs” has all the exquisite character development of Anderson’s classic 1919 linked story collection — though in Jewett’s loose novel, set in the fictional coastal village of Dunnet Landing, the salt air and fragrant “balm and sage and borage and mint” in the garden of the local healing herbalist help make plain the residents’ profound connection to the natural world.

Yours truly,
Match Book

Do you need book recommendations? Write to matchbook@nytimes.com.

Check out Match Book’s earlier recommendations here.


Source link

No comments