When speaking of writers, English essayist A.C. Benson (1862-1925) said: “An author should be more than content if he finds he has made a difference to a handful of people, or given innocent pleasure to a small company.” Benson’s thought surely applies to Belgrade Lakes author Earl H. Smith.

Smith, former dean of Colby College, has written two hilarious, wacky novels of small town politics, “The Dam Committee” and “More Dam Trouble,” bringing delightful comic relief to countless readers. Now, however, “Head of Falls” is a serious departure from those earlier funny stories, and readers will not be disappointed.

He is a masterful storyteller with a keen sense of humor and smart, tender observations of human nature, warts and all. This effort contains loads of subtle, touching humor, but its warm portrayals of love, friendship, loyalty and promise carry the day.

Angela Jamal is a 15-year-old Lebanese-American girl living in 1950s Waterville, a nostalgic period of economic uncertainty, dim futures, black and white TV and Elvis Presley. Angela is a sassy teenager: “I’m pretty sure I’ve already learned most of what everybody needs to know.” With a haggard, hard-working mother, an abusive, drunken father and a protective brother, Angela escapes family poverty to an unexpected world of music.

A lonely old man, Mr. M, teaches Angela to play the piano, unlocking a musical talent and desire she never knew she had, but that he sees clearly in her. Through the pimples, hormones, tears and trials of high school, Angela learns much more about life than she expected, developing into a confident, caring and talented young woman.


There is conflict, tragedy and sadness here, too. But Smith’s deft handling of Angela’s coming of age produces a positive, inspiring tale with a poignant ending.


Mainers love to write memoirs about their lives, work, hobbies and careers. Most are pretty ordinary, some are quite interesting and a few are even extraordinary. Jake Morrel’s is one of those last few.

“Hardscrabble Lodge” is Morrel’s very entertaining memoir of his career as a commercial floatplane pilot and owner of the Hardscrabble Lodge, a hunting and fishing sporting camp on Spencer Lake in the remote wilderness of northern Maine.

Early chapters describe Morrel’s exciting job flying a floatplane for Folsom’s Air Service in Greenville, ferrying hunters and fishermen to remote lakes and ponds, flying in supplies to sporting camps and flying rescues of the injured, the sick and the stupid long before the days of the LifeFlight helicopters.

Later chapters vividly tell how he and his wife, Beth, bought a rundown sport camp, rebuilt it themselves, and opened the Hardscrabble Lodge. She cooked and ran the business, he maintained the lodge and cabins, guided the sports and flew his floatplane.

In “Plane Lift-Off,” he tells of bush flying in all types of weather, in all four seasons, with floats or skis on his plane. In “A Floatplane Can Transport Anything,” he describes how he figured out how his floatplane could haul food, building materials, refrigerators, even dead bodies. In the fascinating chapter “Scientists Like to Look Down,” Morrel tells of charters carrying scientists, geologists and foresters on scientific flights to check wildlife surveys (eagles, ducks, deer), as well as changes in forest growth and signs of insect infestation.

Other stories include how a guest’s St. Bernard dog discovered a forest fire, how he caught two propane thieves in a tense woodland confrontation, and how every Sunday he had to teach novice sportsmen basic firearm safety and land navigation.

Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.

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