LANDSLIDE by Susan Conley; Alfred A. Knopf, 2021; 288 pages, $26.95.

LANDSLIDE

Anyone who has ever raised teenage boys knows well that “having teenagers is like having a bowling alley in your head.” Mom Jill Archer is raising two moody, snarky, hormonal, back-talking teenage boys, and if that weren’t challenge enough, now she’s questioning the strength of her marriage.

“Landslide” is Portland author Susan Conley’s fourth novel, a powerful portrayal of modern parenting, marriage and family unity that cleverly reveals just how difficult these things can be in this age of social media addiction, teen peer pressure and economic uncertainty. She also wrote the outstanding memoir “The Foremost Good Fortune” in 2012.

In a small Maine coastal fishing town Jill and her husband, Kit, work hard to raise their sons Charlie (17) and Sam (16) — boys Jill calls “the wolves” for their independent, mercurial moods and constant sass. Kit has been badly injured in a fishing accident, hospitalized in Nova Scotia, leaving Jill in Maine to run the family. And it’s a rocky ride.

Money is tight, her work as a documentary filmmaker doesn’t earn much, the fishing economy is declining, Kit can’t work now and the boys push behavior boundaries. Then a chance encounter makes Jill suspect Kit of infidelity.

Jill discovers she can no longer be a buddy to her sons, but must now be a parent, establishing a new, firm relationship and at the same time she must face the question: What if a marriage is “just two people who share an idea of what life could be, and then one of them changes their idea?”

Conley’s writing is crisp and vivid, especially the dialogue between mother and sons, wife and husband. There is some humor, but it’s muted in favor of the real-life family drama she so convincingly exposes.

 

A BACKYARD BOOK OF SPIDERS IN MAINE by Dana Wilde; North Country Press, 2020; 175 pages, $26.95.

A BACKYARD BOOK OF SPIDERS IN MAINE

Remember that 1920 nursery rhyme “Itsy Bitsy Spider?” Spiders are cute, right? Or the 1990 horror movie “Arachnophobia?” Spiders are killers, aren’t they? Whether cute or scary, spiders creep out a lot of people precisely because folks don’t really know much about them. Fortunately, Dana Wilde tells the real story about Maine spiders.

Troy author and columnist Wilde writes about science and nature, and this time he’s curious about spiders. He admits he is not a scientist, just a man who likes to explore and learn about things few people even consider — like spiders.

This book is a useful reference guide for spiders found in Maine, covering habitat, physiology, courtship, mating, web spinning, spiders as predators and prey, and interactions with humans. He features more than 50 spiders and includes 165 color photographs.

Wilde reveals that spiders are not insects, they don’t sting (they bite), most have eight eyes and keen vision, are remarkably clean, and “are one of nature’s most versatile, durable creatures.” Many spiders spin intricate webs to snare prey, and he tells how they create silk webs that are incredibly strong and elastic in “fearfully perfect symmetry”  — nature’s tiny engineers.

Some spiders, however, don’t spin webs. They are hunters, ambushing or actively patrolling and pursuing prey. The Bolas Spider throws a sticky ball of silk to catch a passing moth, then reels the moth in for dinner. The Goldenrod Crab Spider, camouflaged as a flower, grabs unwary honeybees.

He describes how spiders live everywhere, indoors and outdoors, in grass, trees, shrubs, under rocks and leaves, even under snowpack. And he reveals that the Brown Recluse and Black Widow spiders rarely kill humans, but their bite can be “medically significant.”  But don’t worry, spiders aren’t looking to chase down, kill and eat humans. That’s all Hollywood.

Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.

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