Monday, June 28, 2010

Book Review: Stern Men

A few years ago, everyone I knew seemed to be reading "Eat, Pray, Love"- I somehow missed the boat on it. I had heard great things about both the book and the author, Elizabeth Gilbert, but it just happened to come across my radar when we were in the midst of moving and some other significant life events, so it slipped by the wayside. It wasn't until I was in a local shop that I happened to notice (and immdeately pick up) Stern Men, Gilbert's first novel published originally before the phenomenon of "Eat, Pray, Love" took off.

Upon reading the synopsis on the back cover, I was immdeately hooked: Ruth Thomas, a snarky, smart-mouthed girl from the fictitious Maine island of Fort Niles returns to the island at the ripe age of 18  in the 1970s after being sent away to a boarding school in Delaware. SOLD. The book had me at Maine- I fully admit to being a sucker for books written about my homestate. The story itself is witty- written in a very dry-humor style, apropriate for the genre. Her father refuses to take her on as a stern men on his own boat, and not being able to find work on any other boats, Ruth spends her summer roaming the island and generally "stirring the turd". She is forced to visit her mother in Concord and deal with their strained relationship, she take solace the the beautiful (and fertile) Mrs. Pommeroy for days on end, assists in Senator Addam's quest for an elusive elephant tusk buried in the island's mud bog, and becomes mesmerized by the preacher's nephew and his quiet, shy strength.
Interwoven in Ruth's own story is a telling of the island's own history, and the ever evolving lobster wars fought between it's own fishermen and those of the neighboring island Corne Haven. It is a near perfect adaptation of what so many fishing communities go through along the coast of Maine, but told in such a captivating way, that it is difficult to put down. The way Gilbert tosses in pieces of vital, occasionally shocking twists in the narrative left me turning pages late into the night. Her portrait of this rural island community is spot on, witty- you can see all the characters loud and clear. The engaging matter of the book makes for a quick, satisfying read- one that I am already sad to have finished!

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