“The Lowering Days” by Gregory Brown; HarperCollins, New York, 2021; 288 pages, hardcover, $26.99.

First, some notes on the word “lowering.”

I read well into Gregory Brown’s “The Lowering Days,”right through the passage where the title is explained, before I realized “lowering” is a variant spelling of the more archaic “louring.”

Louring goes deep in my orthographic, literary and etymological past. Ragged dark clouds just above treetops “lour.” It is a wind-ridden, desolate-field image that rhymes with “sour,” which rhymes with my mother’s Down East pronunciation of “dour.” It means to look dark or threatening, or to scowl; it’s a verb for gloom. “Ominous,” as one character states in the passage where we learn The Lowering Days will be the name of the local newspaper that’s a focal point of the story. The newspaper’s founder, Falon Ames, is interested in the environment and Native American issues and explains “lowering days” is an old expression for a funeral time, when a body is lowered into the grave. It might alternatively refer to the birthing days of boats, which is more upbeat. She prefers the name Lowering Days because she’s “not interested in running some community rag people use for toilet paper in a bind.”

Idealism with an edge. But it’s hard to imagine a weekly newspaper with an explicit philosophy of gloom appealing to enough readers to survive. So sort of a mysterious cloud scuds across the literal and connotative meanings of the phrase “lowering days.” This is, weirdly, appropriate because the atmosphere of the story itself is mysterious.

It opens with David Ames, the principal narrator, recalling a mix of historical information and boyhood memories in the vicinity of Bucksport, Maine. A kind of magic-childhood atmosphere transpires, reminiscent of Ray Bradbury’s “Dandelion Wine.” It takes on an almost fairy-tale-like air when David reconstructs excursions by his parents, Falon and Arnoux, in their youth into mysterious woods where they discover an old barn with an airplane inside. We gather the small plane has, improbably, been there untouched, intact and unseen for decades. This scene is a launching-point for David to unfold, in sort of looping Proustian chronology, the trials and frictions of his family and of the fishing community his mother’s newspaper chronicles.

The community’s frictions go far back in generational time and involve in particular the wretched legacy of European-Native relations. This is evoked in part by frequent mention of local Native presence, both present and past; one chapter recounts a creation story that steps up the mythic atmosphere of the early pages. The Native presence focuses into a plot element in David’s recollections when an empty factory building, which is being readied to reopen and provide badly needed jobs, gets torched. A letter comes to Falon at the newspaper claiming responsibility for the arson, and spelling out the arsonist’s motive: to retaliate against generations of oppression of indigenous peoples and the ongoing desecration of the land.

A conflict ensues over whether Falon should make this letter, and the identity of the writer — a young Native American woman — public. As the young woman and her ancestral benefactor hide out in the woods, an informal meeting is held in town to discuss the matter. This sets the stage for David to depict the deep-set racism in the situation. In the meeting, Falon defends the arsonist on the grounds that she (the arsonist) had a good reason.

A local newspaper editor defending arson, particularly of a building that will house jobs in a hurting community, seems like a stretch of reality. But this stretching is a condition of the book, as it interweaves and plays with history, myth and life as we know it on the coast of Maine. Or at least, as David knows it. This interweaving is made out of unusually fluid poetic prose in which the mythic atmosphere never subsides. Throughout the book we inhabit a narrative world that is partly realistic and partly mythic, and that is overhung by idealistic sensibilities about social justice and personal responsibility. It feels mysterious, nebulous, sort of louring. Deep, but not plumbed. It is a very strange effect.

Gregory Brown grew up in the Belfast area and now lives in Casco. “The Lowering Days” is his first novel, and is available through local book stores, online book sellers and his website (gregory-brown.com).

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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