“Turn Home”

By Eleanor Mayo

Rebel Satori Press, Bar Harbor and New Orleans, 2015

290 pages, trade paperback, $16.95

When Bub Dolliver lands in his hometown of Minot Harbor at the opening of “Turn Home,” by Eleanor Mayo, he’s not exactly sure what he’s doing there, though he’s glad to be back. At first.

Where he’s been unfolds slowly, but quickly obvious is that the residents are none too happy to see him. In fact, a lot of them are fairly nasty about it. It’s obvious that Bub, not to mention the rest of his family, has a shady past.

But he’s determined to make a go of his return, and the story follows the subsurface traps of small-town life in wartime coastal Maine. No one wants to hire Bub, and the guy who finally does practices some disheartening deceits on him. His eventual, inevitable love interest — one of the “nice girls” — has to fend off not only her skeptical parents but a more socially respectable, but childish, suitor. To make matters worse, a cobweb of gossip gets spun around some rather shocking burglaries that begin shortly after Bub’s ignominious arrival.

While this novel, first published in 1945, is brightly written in prim, clinical prose, it is on the other hand a look into the uglier dimensions of small-town social pressure — the people who propagate it and the people who mitigate it. Bub is up against a social wall. His quick, defensive temper — vividly recognizable to those of us who have spent enough time here — works against him time and again in tandem with a stubborn, laconic pride that requires him to do everything his own way — a trait also recognizable hereabouts. Many of the residents are only too ready to take him down for it. The book’s bright surface makes its characters’ shadows seem less disturbing than they really are.

The story is dark enough that in 1950 a noir film titled “Tarnished” was fashioned from it. This past July, Sven Davisson, the publisher of Rebel Satori Press, re-issued “Turn Home” and helped arrange a showing of the film in association with Ruth Moore Days, organized by the Bass Harbor Memorial Library.

Eleanor Mayo, as many readers of Maine literature know, was novelist Ruth Moore’s longtime companion. The two lived together in their home in Bass Harbor from the late 1940s until Mayo’s death in 1981. Moore died in 1989 at the age of 86, one of Maine’s most celebrated fiction writers.

Davisson, great-nephew of Moore and literary archivist for the two writers, also edited “When Foley Craddock Tore Off My Grandfather’s Thumb: The Collected Stories of Ruth Moore and Eleanor Mayo” published in 2004 by Blackberry Press in Nobleboro, which in the 1980s and ’90s also re-issued several of Moore’s novels. Rebel Satori last summer also brought out Mayo’s 1951 novel “October Fire,” and Davisson told me in an email that he plans in the next year or two to re-issue Mayo’s “Loom of the Land,” as well as release her previously unpublished novel “Dark Into Daylight.”

Mayo and Moore are, needless to say, I guess, novelists well worth looking into for their vivid depictions of the subsurfaces of mid-century Maine personalities — the local dispositions from which “‘the summer people!’ … with more money, better houses, better cars, better clothes … who always had more fun and did less work” are by and large cavernously distant.

Off Radar takes note of books with Maine connections every other week. Contact Dana Wilde at [email protected].


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