German philosopher (and unknown jokester) Frederick Nietzsche (1844-1900) once said, “Family love is messy, clinging and of an annoying and repetitive pattern, like bad wallpaper.” Five generations of Tallis women have lived in the same house on Perry Street in Greenwich Village, New York, since 1873. It’s an old house, full of disguised memories and bad wallpaper.

Award-winning Portland author Agnes Bushell’s 12th novel (after “Death In Arcadia”) is “a matriarchal epic,” with three generations of Tallis women — one grandmother, two daughters and two granddaughters — living together on the upper floors of the house on Perry Street (Uncle Harry lives in the basement). Bushell’s novels often deal with thorny social and political issues. This one focuses on generations of independent, progressive, activist women and the strong bonds that connect them.

In today’s New York, unemployed 30-something granddaughter Marina discovers that no one knows who actually owns the house, the only home any of them have ever known. Suddenly, Marina and cousin Clara worry that their long-dead great-great-grandmother or their great-grandmother may have willed the house to the Catholic Church. They might end up on the street.

The two Gen-X women begin a frantic search for a will, but instead uncover several unpublished novels written by Tallis women — novels that seem too autobiographical and cause them to wonder who their fathers are. Revealing fatherhood among the Tallis women seems to be a cross-generational puzzle best left unsolved.

Despite their efforts, the older women spar with them, imposing curious condition on information, causing no end of tension. The Tallis women’s family motto should be: “Well, that escalated quickly.” This is an intricate, sensitive story that proves Nietzsche was right. For another excellent novel of matriarchal family drama, see J. Courtney Sullivan’s “Maine” (Knopf, 2011).


When the United States went to war in 1941, Maine went to war, too. Countless books have been written about World War II, but few have ever covered the wartime homefront in Maine. Fortunately, Topsham author Margaret Konitzky fixes that.

This book provides an excellent history of the midcoast’s war effort; from shipbuilding, manufacturing and rationing, to war bond drives, Victory gardens and women in the workforce. As a local historian, Konitzky has done a masterful job researching and telling this well-deserved story.

Her entertaining narrative is supplemented with 99 black-and-white photographs, as she describes the patriotic fever that hit Maine. Enlistments in the Navy, Army, and Marines swelled, but created family hardships with paychecks, housing and food and fuel rationing.

Konitzky tells of the boom in shipbuilding — not only Navy destroyers at Bath Ironworks, but wooden-hulled minesweepers and patrol craft at small yards like Marr’s in Damariscotta and Sample’s in Boothbay Harbor. She also describes the coastal defense efforts, with soldiers, sailors and civilians serving the Coastal Picket Patrol (the “Hooligan Navy”), Coastal Beach Patrol and Civil Air Patrol.

Often overlooked and underappreciated are the valuable contributions of women at home — raising families and working in industry, farming, running town businesses and even serving as auxiliary firefighters. Women worked as welders, mechanics and truck drivers, while others volunteered with the Red Cross and the Citizens Service Corps.

By reading this book, you will learn how the complex rationing system really worked, about the “scrimp, salvage and save” program and the unique way America financed the war. There are no monuments in Maine commemorating the civilian homefront, but our state finally does have its own Gold Star marker honoring the Maine families that lost a loved one in the war. It is located in P-3 Park at Brunswick Landing.

Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.

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