"North Haven"

When I began this book, I was delighted to find it set in one of my very favorite parts of the country, the northern Maine coast. It’s the story of a sometimes tense and angry, sometimes close and loving family who gather for their traditional Fourth of July vacation at their summer home on the shore of an island overlooking a large bay and scattered smaller islands. The house is old and decaying, but the memories it holds makes its many problems easily overlooked.

The family members who gather include four siblings: Tom, the oldest, assumes the self-appointed position as always-correct leader and caretaker of the family, which brings occasional flares of frustration and anger from the others; second-oldest is Libby, the stabilizing influence in the family, who is however dealing with her own conflict, fearing that combining households with her lover, a beautiful woman who cares deeply for her, but whom she fears will eclipse her with her beauty and more-exciting life; Gwen is the loose cannon of the family, an artist who for years has frustrated her older siblings by refusing to take life too seriously. She fantasizes being a lobsterman’s wife and hooks up briefly with one, which extinguishes that dream quickly. Danny, at age 21, is 10 years younger than Gwen, and a recent college dropout. He has recently taken an extended solo trip through the West, trying to cope with his grief from the death of their mother. He’d had a much different, closer relationship with her then his brother and sisters, who remember her as a woman given to yelling, screaming fights with their father, one of which was highlighted by her systematic destruction of their wedding china.

Their father died three years ago, dropping on the porch of the summer house of a heart attack. Before he died, he’d been easy-going, content with a beer and a sunset on the same porch, but the older siblings could remember his enthusiastic part in the battles with their mother when they were children.

The book is arranged in chapters addressing each sibling in turn, over the several days of their vacation. In a nice touch, there are scattered chapters of “Another Summer,” allowing development of the family’s relationships through the years by means of flashbacks to important events in all their lives.

The primary conflict in the story comes when a visitor to the island makes an offer to buy the summer house and the land surrounding it for several million dollars. For Tom, this would be the answer to a number of money problems he can see in the future, and a way out from under the huge expense of restoring the house. The others have a much less pragmatic view and are set against selling it, with its many memories, for any price. The dynamics of Tom’s personality are laid out toward the end of the book, and the resolution the family comes to in the end is a bit of a surprise, but logical and satisfying.

This novel is well worth your time, especially if you also have affection for the Maine coast. The varied personalities of the family and their sometimes complicated relationships are well-developed and described, demonstrating the reality of many reared in a large family: that life isn’t always pleasant, but fortunately for most, the good things far outweigh the not so good.