STATESMAN: GEORGE MITCHELL AND THE ART OF THE POSSIBLE

By Douglas Rooks

Down East Books, 2016

590 pages, $29.95

Otto von Bismarck, chancellor of Germany from 1871 to 1890, once declared, “Politics is the art of the possible.” For more than 40 years, Maine’s own George Mitchell has proved repeatedly that Bismarck was right.

“Statesman” is journalist and author Douglas Rooks’ debut book, a well-researched personal and political biography of George Mitchell, whose colorful and successful career in public service as a lawyer, judge, U.S. senator and special envoy mark him as one of Maine’s most respected public figures. Rooks is a former editor and publisher of the Maine Times. He lives in West Gardiner.

This is a lengthy, meticulously detailed book filled with insights into Mitchell himself and the gritty realities of state, national and international politics. It’s heady stuff, indeed, but nicely leavened with warm, funny stories of Mitchell’s childhood in a large family in Waterville (he was born in 1933), political lessons taught by his mentor Ed Muskie, and his lifelong love of baseball — especially the Red Sox.

Rooks covers Mitchell’s legal and political life thoroughly, revealing much about his skills as a jurist and campaigner, and how he always impresses colleagues and opponents with his wit, patience, command of facts, procedures and persuasive arguments.

Best, however, are Rooks’ fascinating portrayals of Mitchell as a special envoy: first, as the emissary who negotiated the accords in Northern Ireland; and second, as the special envoy trying to promote peace in the Middle East between the Palestine Liberation Organization and Israel.

Learn of Mitchell’s three necessary traits for being a good lawyer or judge, about the six “Mitchell Principles” applied as a peace envoy, and about the hilarious (and oft told) “cow joke” and the “cot story.”

Rooks has done Maine a great service with this excellent biography of a true statesman.

HAULING THROUGH

By Peter Bridgford

Maine Authors Publishing, 2016

475 pages, $18.95

Young ne’er-do-well Jamie Kurtz suffers a post-college meltdown in this overly ambitious, coming-of-age debut novel by Maine author Peter Bridgford.

“Hauling Through” is the perfect title for Jamie’s erratic journey from spoiled rich kid to independent, confident young man ready to stand on his own two feet. Unfortunately, Jamie’s passage is too long by 200 pages, and is filled with hand-wringing angst over lost love, lost income and lost direction.

Jamie is a whining sniveler, wallowing in self-pity after his college sweetheart dumps him and his wealthy, domineering father cuts off his allowance. Jamie lands in Kestrel Cove, Maine, a small fishing village where the wacky residents believe a hovering Russian satellite is spying on them (and that’s the nutty part of this story).

Working first at the deep fryer in a crummy restaurant, Jamie later lands a job as the sternman on a lobster boat, finally learning the value and satisfaction of hard work. Jamie doesn’t really fit in with the rough community of profane, drunken fishermen, but he gradually makes friends, especially with a pretty local girl and a mysterious millionaire who has unusual foreign visitors and a secret installation hidden on his own mountaintop.

Bridgford takes on too much with this meandering tale — the pain of young love; the goofy and unconvincing spy satellite connection; bumbling FBI agents sniffing after suspicious North Koreans; environmentalists shouting at boozed up, fist-fighting fishermen; and Jamie’s odd, out-of-place historical comparison of lobster fishing (lobstercide) with the Jewish Holocaust.

There are some very funny scenes, such as Jamie’s weird haircut by a wannabe hairstylist, but “Hauling Through” can’t seem to make up its mind about what it wants to be: romance, comedy, fishing lesson or a suspenseful thriller?

Sadly, it is hard to tell which.

Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.

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