THE ROAD TO TERRENCEFIELD

By Henry Spritz

The Telling Room, 2014

139 pages, $12.95

ISBN 978-0-9892395-3-0

Lots of older folks might think that young people today don’t know how to write a complete sentence. Fortunately, 13-year-old Henry Spritz doesn’t have that problem. Not only can Spritz write, he can write well.

A year ago, he was a 12-year-old, seventh grade student in Portland when he started to write his first book, “The Road To Terrencefield,” now published by The Telling Room, a Portland program that promotes the literary skills of young, aspiring writers ages 6 to 18. The program pairs selected young writers with mentors like Richard Russo, Susan Conley and others for one year. And the results are surprisingly polished.

For a young writer like Spritz focus, structure and follow-through might seem to be the greatest challenges, but he has succeeded where many adult writers have failed — producing a well-crafted, satisfying novella with thoughtful characters in a lucid, timely story of small-town judgment and intolerance.

Terrencefield is a small, insular fishing village where “nothing ever happens.” Everyone knows everyone else (and their business), and all seem content with the sameness of their lives. One day, a tall stranger walks into town, unremarkable except for his penetrating grey eyes.

The stranger is polite, but evasive about his background and intentions, making small-minded people uncomfortable. He gets a part-time job at the library and people expect (and hope) he will soon move on.

When the much disliked town patriarch dies in a boating accident at sea, a few ignorant people start pointing fingers of blame, and soon fear and mob hysteria overwhelm reason and good judgment. The result is a hasty, regretful act of violence that forever changes the town. And still no one knows who the stranger really is.

This is a morality play with a powerful, convincing message.

SWAN’S ISLAND CHRONICLES: BORROWED, EXAGGERATED, AND HALF-FORGOTTEN TALES OF ISLAND LIFE

By Kate Webber

The History Press, 2014

158 pages, $19.99

ISBN 978-1-62619-317-8

Famed historian A.J.P. Taylor (1906-1990) once wrote: “History is not another name for the past, as many people imply. It is the name for stories about the past.”

Maine author and historian Kate Webber is just the right person to tell some of those stories.

“Swan’s Island Chronicles” is Webber’s debut book, a collection of anecdotal historical tidbits about Swan’s Island, which sits six miles from Mount Desert Island, off the Maine coast.

Webber is a Bates College alumnus who lived on Swan’s Island (with its 330 year-round residents) for two years as part of a program working with the Swan’s Island Historical Society. The result is a funny and highly entertaining perspective of island life through the oral histories she gathered from island residents.

This is not a stuffy, academic tome — there’s no boring history here. Instead, Webber livens up Swan’s Island history with stories of scoundrels, wacky characters and longing for the good old days of outhouses and oil lamps. Best, however, is Webber’s own writing style. She is very funny, refreshingly poking fun at herself, thinking “the only thing worse than a winter on a Maine island would be two winters on a Maine island.”

She tells of the island’s namesake, Colonel James Swan (1754-1830), “a brilliant, daring, and morally questionable kind of guy,” a devious land speculator who actually enjoyed the years he spent in a debtor’s prison. Other stories include old folks describing the challenges of island gardening, inventive opportunities for teenage romance, the traveling shoe repair barge (no kidding), how to properly hang wet laundry on the clothesline and island entertainment like donkey softball, record hops, zombies in the cemetery and the ever-popular pastime of skiff rustling.

And with tongue firmly in cheek, she admits that some stories are even true.

Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.

 

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