Portland writer Susan Conley wrote about fishing, gentrification and raising teenage boys in “Landslide,” her first Maine novel.

Maine writer Susan Conley has finally come home to Maine with her latest novel, “Landslide.” She calls it her “most important book” and the book she has been “waiting to write for years.”

“Landslide,” published by Knopf, is a deeply personal but not autobiographical novel about a fishing family caught between tradition and change, whose lives are further disrupted when their husband and father, Kit, suffers an accident at sea and is hospitalized in Canada. Through the voice of wife and mother Jill, a documentary filmmaker in the coastal community of fictional Sewall, Conley writes about gentrification from the perspective of a family struggling to hang together as the forces of modern fishing and a failing marriage pull it apart.

A fourth-generation Mainer with roots in Woolwich and Phippsburg, Conley has witnessed the trawlers disappear from the waters of her family place in Phippsburg, on which Sewall is based. With her writing, she peels back the layers of explanation about where they went, and why. “One by one they started disappearing, and now there are none. It happened right before our eyes. We watched it happen,” said Conley, who lives in Portland. “Where did they go? Where did the fishermen go? Where did that version of Maine go?”

It’s a complicated answer, and Conley said she felt ready to take it on in her writing. In Conley’s last novel, “Elsey Comes Home,” the main character came home to Maine in the final chapter. That began Conley’s journey into writing about the Maine she knew, a process she enjoyed so much with Elsey she continued it with Jill in “Landslide.”

“It felt very natural,” she said. “I am, 53 now. I published my first book when I was 40, which is suddenly 13 years ago. I have some perspective on this place, which is part of my DNA. I have found over the last several years I wanted to reclaim the past, or celebrate the past. This is the celebration of the rural Maine I knew in the ’70s driving in our beat-up Subaru listening to Fleetwood Mac.”

Conley celebrates the novel’s release at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 2, with a Zoom book launch with Print: A Bookstore in Portland, co-hosted by the Mechanics’ Hall and Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance. Maine novelist Lily King, who wrote a blurb for the book, will lead the discussion, the first of many for Conley with A-list novelists. She will talk with Christina Baker Kline at 7 p.m. Monday, Feb. 8, hosted by Left Bank Books in Belfast, and with Bill Roorbach at 6 p.m. Feb. 18, hosted by Bogan Books in Fort Kent. At 7 p.m. March 4, Conley will talk about writing about Maine with Richard Russo in a statewide Zoom event with 30 Maine libraries.


She is doing virtual events across the country, from Vermont to Texas to California. “It’s an exciting book tour in that the virtual tour has allowed a much more conversational format. At every stop, I am in conversation with an incredible writer,” she said. “We’ve had to be more creative and more nimble. It’s not a bad thing to reinvent the literary reading. It had to be reinvented. It is much more content- and idea-driven now.”

At the kickoff event on Tuesday, Print will screen a five-minute book trailer, based on the book’s first chapter, by Maine filmmaker Sean Mewshaw, an example of the kind of nimbleness that Conley is referencing. Instead of reading the first chapter, she’ll show a movie about it.

The other dominant theme of the book is teenage boys. She calls the boys “wolves” in the book. Lovingly. Conley and her husband have raised two teenage boys, with one still in the house. Their doors were, and are, open to the boys’ friends. They all know where the orange juice is in the fridge and can help themselves. She has had countless conversations with them about love, summer jobs, college applications and worries large and small. “I live in teenage-boy land and I speak teenage boy,” she said. “There is a boy language, and I feel honored to get to listen to it. It’s a very devoted language, and there’s an incredible amount of humility.”

The boys set the pace, tenor and tone for a larger story about gentrification and what happens when families are tested by forces within their control and beyond the reach.

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