Sunday, December 7, 2014

Anchors Away: Stern Men

Stern Men by Elizabeth Gilbert
Mariner, 2000

Ruth has spent nearly her entire life on a small, practically forgotten island in Maine, its inhabitants all quirky and resistant to joining "modern" times. They're lobster fishermen, stern men through and through. But Ruth has never quite completely fit in with them, and no one quite takes her seriously when she comes home after completing her fancy mainland education and claims she wants to work the boats too. But Ruth isn't one to give up without a fight, especially when she has something to prove. Yet it is ultimately meeting the curious Owney from the neighboring (and rival) island that pushes the girl to make a change once and for all.

When I first heard about this novel by Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat, Pray, Love fame , I thought it sounded sort of plucky. Charming. A bit Romeo and Juliet meets a Gilmore Girls/Stars Hollow-esque cast on fishing islands in Maine. And it was those things, to a degree. But the blurb inside the book jacket puts much more emphasis on a budding romance and island rivalries than the novel does. More than anything, this is a story about one island, it's history, and how the choices of Ruth's various ancestors - from her parents to generations back - have all lead up to this moment she now finds herself in. And, all in all, I didn't mind that that's what the story was, I only wish it had been more accurately advertised as such.

My biggest criticism of the book comes from its pacing. A relatively short novel, Most of the book felt like backstory. Though the pace of the plot did pick up in the second half, the conclusion felt comparatively rushed, lacking the careful attention to detail that the first 2/3rds received. It also left me with a lot of questions about the characters I'd just invested so much time in. For example, readers are introduced to the challenges regarding the marriage of Ruth's parents, but with the book's abrupt ending (the conclusion was crammed into an epilogue), there was no resolution or even mention of what became of them.

All in all, I liked Gilbert's writing style. I found the setting and premise to be interesting, but the pacing did leave something to be desired. Still, I do intend on continuing to read more of Gilbert's writing in the future. If you're in the mood for a cozy book with an intimate setting that looks at the world on a small, but not unimportant, scale, check this out from your library. I found it to be a fine one time read.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

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