THE WEIR by Ruth Moore; Islandport Press, 2020; 299 pages, $17.95.

THE WEIR

Fans of great Maine literature will certainly know of Ruth Moore (1903-1989), one of Maine’s most beloved and enduring female novelists. Moore was a best-selling author who lived most of her life in Bass Harbor (Mount Desert Island), where she wrote 14 popular and critically acclaimed novels.

Islandport Press in Yarmouth has wisely acquired the rights to Moore’s novels, and is republishing them in order. “The Weir” is her first novel, originally published in 1943, establishing a literary legacy that lasts even today.

In “The Weir,” Moore writes with a keen sense of time and place, creating a well-crafted plot and vivid characters that accurately define the hardscrabble, insular lives of Maine islanders in the years just prior to World War II. Best is her effective use of authentic dialogue, written smartly in period island vernacular.

This is a story of families living in hard times with the conflicts, rivalries and petty jealousies that fester into grudges and grim feuds, pitting island families and even brothers against one another. Comey’s Island is not a happy place.

The Turner family is at odds with the Comey clan, bickering over property, gossip-mongering, bad manners, even who has the cleanest house. The Turners and Comeys are related by blood and marriage. The Turners are decent, the Comeys snarky and troublesome, especially the eldest Comey son, Morris, a cheating, lying, conniver whose arrogance sets off a chain of bitterness and violence.

The result is tragedy and sadness. But honor, goodness and charity will overcome even the feud’s spiteful spiral. Moore deftly adds action, suspense, humor and plot twists to make this a fascinating tale of Maine families in a time of personal distress and challenge.

Another notable, more contemporary female novelist is Ardeana Hamlin, with her two novels, “Pink Chimneys,” “Abbott’s Reach” and “The Havener Sisters.”

 

RIVER VOICES:  PERSPECTIVES ON THE PRESUMPSCOT, edited by Robert M. Sanford and William S. Plumley; North Country Press, 2020; 376 pages, $26.95.

RIVER VOICES: PERSPECTIVES ON THE PRESUMPSCOT

About a river, American poet and essayist Henry Van Dyke (1852-1933) once wrote: A river is the most human and companionable of all inanimate things. It has a life, a character, a voice of its own.” And the Presumpscot River in southern Maine certainly fits that description.

“River Voices” expresses the Presumpscot’s “voice” in 15 chapters of prose and art, a volume thoughtfully produced by the Friends of the Presumpscot River, a formal organization dedicated to the history and stewardship of the river. Thirty-one contributors, writers and artists, present experiences and observations of the river’s history from geology and archeology to literature, recreation, fisheries, industrial use and some fascinating historical views.

The Presumpscot River flows out of Sebago Lake to Casco Bay, through Windham, Gorham, Westbrook and Falmouth, a 648-square-mile watershed. Native Wabanakis lived, fished and farmed along its banks, followed by colonial settlers and a once-thriving Quaker community. Chapters on the river’s industrial uses are revealing, especially Maurice Whitten’s piece “Maine’s Gunpowder Mills.” The river provided water power for gunpowder mills, gristmills, sawmills, paper mills, textile and tanning factories and ironworks.

Other chapters discuss dams and hydro power, as well as the adverse effects of industrial and agricultural pollution, and the potent “citizen activism” working to restore the river’s health of fisheries, fresh water usage, recreation and tourism.

Learn why the Presumpscot River was once declared “one of the most endangered rivers,” how the river was directly involved in the invention of canned corn in 1952, how gunpowder is made (and why it explodes so easily) and how literature, poetry, art and picture postcards play such an important role in the river’s life.

Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.

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