TOUGH ISLAND: TRUE STORIES
FROM MATINICUS ISLAND

By Crash Barry
Maine Misadventures, 2011
124 pages, $18
ISBN 978-0-9837431-0-1
 
Many books have been written on the subjects of lobster fishing and life on a Maine island, usually painting a romantic, picturesque image of rugged individualism and serene independence.  Well, this isn’t one of them.

TOUGH ISLAND is a gritty, coarse and profane non-fiction portrayal of the drug- and alcohol-fueled lives of sternmen and others living on Matinicus Island, the farthest offshore, year-round, inhabited island on the Maine coast. The author, Crash Barry, lived there for two years in the early 1990s, working for a lobsterman he describes as “a racist, sexist, homophobic, polluting curmudgeon.”

Barry is now a columnist for The Bollard, a Portland news magazine, and many of these stories were previously published there. He lives in western Maine.

In 1991, at age 23, Barry had just finished with an enlistment in the U.S. Coast Guard. An aspiring poet and writer, he accepts a job on Matinicus, living in a filthy fish shack, working six days a week as a lobsterboat sternman, a simple, yet physically demanding job.

These 24 short essays tell of his experiences living and working with violent drunks, voracious drug abusers (himself included), shameless liars and clever cheats. Fortunately, there are a few nice, honest folks in these stories, too, but his overall portrayal of Matinicus is not pretty.

Barry is a very talented writer, however, and his stories are sometimes funny, always perceptive, as he tells of the drug and booze smugglers who supply the island’s wild parties and constant highs, the wacky and often tense relationships among sternmen and their captains, and the hard, dangerous work of lobstering.

Barry’s descriptions of Matinicus are depressing and a bit disturbing. Perhaps a more balanced view of Matinicus would be found in Eva Murray’s excellent book, WELL OUT TO SEA (Tilbury House, 2010).

 

NOTES FROM A MAINE KITCHEN:
SEASONALLY INSPIRED RECIPES

By Kathy Gunst
Down East Books, 2011
196 pages, $27.95
ISBN 978-0-89272-917-3
 
When George Bernard Shaw said:  “There is no sincerer love than the love of food,” he might have been thinking about food writer Kathy Gunst and her passion for locally produced fresh food.

NOTES FROM A MAINE KITCHEN is Gunst’s 15th cookbook, a delightful romp through a kitchen filled with roasts, stews, soups, salads, desserts, vegetables and the answer to the often asked question — “What do you do with an ‘Angry Lobster?’ ”

Gunst lives in South Berwick and is an award-winning radio chef for WBUR and a cookbook author.  And, though the book has no photographs of the finished dishes, it does have something few cookbooks have — humor. Gunst is not only a great cook and a talented writer, she is very funny, too. 

In addition to the fabulous recipes, her essays are vivid and funny commentaries on everything from ice fishing, houseguests and winter farmers’ markets, to raising chickens and canning peaches.
The book is arranged by 12 seasonal months, featuring recipes for main courses, sauces, side dishes and desserts. She also includes a helpful chapter of full menus for breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner. 

Another chapter offers useful resources for finding more information about things like mushrooms, chocolate, maple syrup, canning and volunteering at food banks and soup kitchens.

Learn, too, about “the best pie I’d ever made,” how chocolate and sea salt go so well together, how to grill a pizza and fry an egg in olive oil, and how to get through holiday entertaining without resorting to Prozac.

— Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.