TALK RADIO: A NOVEL by Ham Martin; Black Rose Writing, 2021; 303 pages, $20.95.

TALK RADIO: A NOVEL

Nationally broadcast radio talk-shows have become the acidic theater of political screed. Fortunately, local talk-radio is still focused on things that really matter — the town budget, the best lobster bait, house paint tips and bean suppers.

“Talk Radio” is Maine author Ham Martin’s wonderful novel about a very local talk-radio show in Frost Pound, at station WNWT, 1420 on the AM dial, five mornings a week from nine to noon. Martin has written screenplays for 20 years and his skills with characters and dialogue are perfect for this charming and funny story.

“Radio is the most intimate and socially personal medium in the world,” and Martin’s colorful portrayal of talk-radio’s impact on people is beautifully illustrated here. Recently divorced Vivian Kindler is hired as the new host of WNWT’s talk show after the popular, long-time host Fred Boyland has a stroke.

The station’s owners think she is terrific, but her listeners aren’t too sure; after all, she’s from away and folks think she stole Fred’s job. Vivian takes some verbal abuse, but folks warm up to her comfortable, self-deprecating style, and her desire to know her callers’ names. Before long she has a regular following of callers like the Catholic Lady, George the Welder, Brownie the Poet, Paul the short-story writing piano-tuner, Catch-and-Release Bobby and Old Sabe, who pulls her leg with tales of freshwater lobsters crossing the road. Complaints, questions, jokes, pranks and honesty abound.

Vivian is also caring and empathetic, becoming emotionally involved when one delightful regular caller announces he’s dying of cancer, and would like to meet her. The caller also asks that another caller come for a visit, too, setting up a tenderly crafted and heart-rending reunion of lonely souls brought together by talk radio.

 

PROSPECTS: MINING MAINE FOR RICHES by Robert W. Spencer; Maine Authors Publishing, 2020; 285 pages, $19.95.

PROSPECTS: MINING MAINE FOR RICHES

Mining for gemstones and minerals began in Maine 200 years ago, driven by dreams of great wealth hidden beneath the earth’s surface. Mining has always been risky, dangerous and economically unpredictable, especially as portrayed in Robert Spencer’s novel “Prospects.”

Spencer lives in Waterford and this is his second novel, following “The Spinster’s Hope Chest.” This is an ambitious, complex novel covering the years 1896-1903, split between the mining history of Oxford County and the Victorian-era, soap-opera dramas of working-class families.

The story combines mining history, business deals, family relationships, courtship, romance, tragedy, deceit, heartache, suspense and even murder, providing an exciting tale. Spencer also uses clever foreshadowing, so readers must pay attention to catch clues to what might happen next.

Canadian miner Clarence Potter shows up in Maine in 1896, full of ideas for getting rich mining for gemstones and rare earth minerals. He is hired to mine for feldspar, mica, quartz and tourmaline, and enjoys some success. But Potter is an enigma, something about him just doesn’t seem right.  He is a widower with three children, looking for a new wife, and settles on 20-year-old Lottie, a young woman swept off her feet by this worldly man’s attentions. An abrupt elopement and wedding sets off a bitterly contentious family drama with unpleasant results.

Meanwhile, Aphia Stevens, a supposed widow, is nuts, threatening neighbors and a former rival for her husband’s hand. Her farm abuts one of Potter’s mines and escalating trouble ensues, including an accidental shooting death and suspicions of multiple murder.

Spencer’s portrayal of southern Maine’s pegmatite mining history is fascinating — the business of mining, investing, financing, products and the frequent risk of failure. The ending, however, is sudden and surprising, capping an entertaining family and business saga.

Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.

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