CLOSER ALL THE TIME

By Jim Nichols

Islandport Press, 2015

182 pages, $22.95

Maine writer Jim Nichols is an award-winning author of novels and short stories, most notably his outstanding novel “Hull Creek” (2011). This latest effort, however, is an uneven hybrid of novel and short story, a writing experiment that just doesn’t quite blend.

Nichols explains that this novella began as a series of stand-alone short stories. His editor convinced him that if he could somehow connect the short stories he would have a novel. Good idea, right? Well, maybe not.

Since these were stand-alone short stories initially, it isn’t easy to later create connections that make a full story flow smoothly. The end result is that this still reads like a collection of short stories with choppy linkage across generations from post-World War II to the 1980s, creating a confusing series of vignettes.

Nichols uses the fictional small town of Baxter, Maine, as the setting, with 11 major characters (each with a chapter of their own) and numerous minor characters to tell sad stories of adult heartbreak, snippy gossip, boys and girls growing up, alcohol abuse, unrequited love, parental secrets, accidental death, marital jealousy and family discord.

Several characters and their situations stand out nicely. Arnold Stimpson, once the school bully, now drives an oil truck and is pulled back into his dead-end role as a boxer, desperate to make some money as a has-been “opponent” facing a real fighter. As a little girl, Tomi Lambert discovers a surprising family secret that she cannot reconcile in her young mind. And Russell Barnes, the janitor at the local airport, finally realizes his future is back in Alaska where a special woman waits.

The connections between the characters and the linkage between chapters is unconvincing. This would have been much better left as a collection of short stories.

THE LORD OF VIK-LO: A NOVEL OF VIKING AGE IRELAND

By James L. Nelson

Fore Topsail Press, 2015

300 pages, $12.99

Once again, Maine author James Nelson spins a fine yarn with this third volume of “The Norsemen Saga,” about Norwegian Vikings plundering the Irish coast is the ninth century.

The first two novels in this original and exciting series, “Fin Gall” and “Dubh-Linn,” followed the bloody exploits of Thorgrim Night Wolf and his Viking warriors as they raided villages and monasteries, endured torture and treachery, and battled with Irish armies in merciless, savage hand-to-hand combat. Now, however, Thorgrim, son Harald, and the Viking survivors set sail for home, their longship loaded with loot, their battle wounds barely healed.

Anyone who has read any of Nelson’s nonfiction, or his other historical fiction about pirates, privateers and the Civil War, will know that he is a masterful storyteller of tales filled with colorful adventure, gripping suspense, fast-paced action and accurate historical detail. And “The Lord of Vik-Lo” will not disappoint.

Thorgrim’s longship is damaged in a storm and must put into the Danish settlement of Vik-Lo for repairs (Vik-Lo is the present day town of Wicklow on Ireland’s east coast). Norsemen and Danes are enemies, but they grudgingly put aside their hostility to combine forces to fight a vicious Irish lord and find a hidden treasure. Thorgrim doesn’t realize he is being used, and a vengeful death awaits him once the treasure is located.

An Irish slave girl claims to know where the treasure is hidden, but the Danes and Norsemen are suspicious of each other, of the girl’s claim and of an Irish trap intended to wipe them out, seize their ships and recover the treasure for themselves.

Pay attention and you will figure out the treasure’s location before anyone else, but not before stacks of dead bodies and screaming wounded are piled high at sea and on shore.

Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.