“North by Northeast: New Short Fiction by Writers from Maine and New England”

As summer, unbelievably, now starts winding down, the locally published books continue piling up. Here are three that could make nice contributions to your autumn afternoons.

One is “North by Northeast: New Short Fiction by Writers from Maine and New England.” Agnes Bushell, Portland novelist and Littoral Books co-publisher with her husband, Jim Bushell, has put together an illuminating collection of stories that prove, literarily, that there are peculiarities to our north-by-northeast perspective.

Most of the book’s 17 stories are set in Maine and the Northeast. Three linked stories by former Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance director Joshua Bodwell, “A Cape Porpoise Suite,” offers different angles on the life of fishing families and others on the coast. Robert Diamante’s “Blue Eyes” (which is to me the gem of the collection), follows two gay men who meet in an online chat room and then spend a few hours together exploring Portland and ending in a poignant scene on Higgins Beach in Scarborough. Other stories tell of a couple’s attachment to a strange bird in Deering Oaks Park, a central Maine woman grappling with a decision to take her husband off life support, and a Maine family’s trip to Prince Edward Island, and more. For perspective, no doubt, is Meghan Gillis’s phantasmagoric “Sun,” about the Southwest desert.

Copies of “North by Northeast” are available at local book stores or by visiting littoralbooks.com.

 

“Half a Bubble Off Plumb: The News from Two Dits Farm”

Longtime Waldo County author and English teacher Sheila Gilluly recently published “Half a Bubble Off Plumb,” a collection of essays that tell, as the title suggests, the delightfully slant truth about living in the Maine sticks. The opening essay explains how she got from Guam to the coast of Maine via a hairbrained scheme on her mother’s part. After that it’s one backwoods caper after another, from feeding chickadees to pruning apple trees, fixing the washing machine, making blueberry jam (recipes included) and figuring out what the hell to do with zucchinis (“Author’s note: No zucchinis were harmed in the making of this essay.”)

Many homesteaders from Maine’s back-to-the-land era will recognize their own experiences here, plus more, and find every possible way to be delighted by the trials, errors, disasters and beauties of the whole experience. For others, “Half a Bubble Off Plumb” will be either a cautionary or  inspirational text, according to your disposition, I imagine.

Sheila Gilluly is also the author of the Greenbriar Queen and Books of the Painter fantasy trilogies. “Half a Bubble Off Plumb” and her other books are available from online book sellers in paperback and electronic editions.

 

“The Riddle of Yes: Poems,” by Carolyn Locke

Sheila Gilluly’s longtime teaching colleague at Mount View High School, Carolyn Locke, will be launching her new collection of poetry, “The Riddle of Yes,” 7-8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 6, at Basil Burwell Community Theater, 17 Court St., in Belfast. This book follows her two other collections, “The Place We Become”  and “Always This Falling,” and explores many of the same themes — including the illuminations available in the woods around her home in Troy, memory, and the inexplicable, chronic presence of human suffering.

A number of the poems are “for Tanya,” another of Locke and Gilluly’s teaching colleagues, and these poems drill at heartfelt angles into the long, declining road of serious illness and its accompanying feelings — “so many unanswered questions / unwinding through the universe”.

The poems in this collection are characterized almost throughout by a sense of sadness and bewilderment, but there is also a persistent determination to make sense out of things that make no sense. The later poems touch the elusive meanings of dream figures and images with hope, and the most beautiful poem in the book, for my money, is also the one in which a pure joy breaks through; “In the Time of Trillium (for my mother),” in its entirety:

When the trees are filled with robins singing

and the swamp with chanting peepers,

when days are a lime-green glow

and small suns of daffodils explode

at the edge of the woods, when garden tulips

swell with pink and red and orange possibility,

and tiny black buds of lilac promise abundance,

once again I see your body releasing you

into the blue-black night where Venus hangs

like a jewel above thickening grasses.

“The Riddle of Yes” (including a sample pdf) and Locke’s other books are available through her website.

 

Off Radar takes note of poetry and books with Maine connections the first and third Thursdays of each month. Dana Wilde is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. Contact him at [email protected].

 

 

 


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