OSLO, MAINE: A NOVEL by Marcia Butler; Central Avenue Publishing, 2021; 211 pages, $16.99.

OSLO, MAINE: A NOVEL

Relationships in marriages, families, even between neighbors are never quite what they seem. “Relationships don’t always make sense, especially from the outside,” writes novelist Sarah Dessen. And she’s absolutely right, as readers of Marcia Butler’s new novel will discover.

“Oslo, Maine” is Butler’s second novel, after “Pickle’s Progress.” Butler is a woman of many talents having also written a memoir and produced a documentary film. She’s also an accomplished professional musician, playing the oboe for 15 years at the chamber music festival in central Maine.

This story may be her greatest challenge yet — weaving a complex tale of fractured families heaped with lies, deception, deep secrets, anger, disappointment and the fear of uncertainty, all with a mother moose and her calf acting as the Greek chorus in this modern tragedy.

Butler pulls it off beautifully with a heart-rending story of small steps and big hopes. Oslo is a Maine paper-mill town clinging to uneasy economic viability, and folks do what they must. Pierre Roy is a 12-year-old boy suffering memory loss from a severe head injury. He is a quiet boy, loves to read books and play the violin, things his macho father, Claude, can’t understand or accept. Pierre’s mother is an unwashed pill addict who lives to punish her husband for things she can’t articulate. Both have unshared secrets that go much deeper.

Pierre’s music teacher is Sandra, a professional musician in an odd hippie-style marriage. She and Pierre understand that music is Pierre’s sanctuary, his only safe place (and maybe for her, too). A series of tragic events will converge forcing everyone to face the realities of their situations, decisions and futures, and no one will be unaffected, especially when Pierre’s memory returns.

And don’t lose track of the moose.

HISTORIC TAVERNS AND TEA ROOMS OF MAINE by Kathy Kenny and Bill Kenny; The History Press, 2021; 144 pages, $21.99.

HISTORIC TAVERNS AND TEA ROOMS OF MAINE

Husband and wife authors Bill and Kathy Kenny had a good idea they’ve presented brilliantly — tell the story of how Maine’s taverns and tea rooms influenced society, economics and politics for nearly 300 years. Who would have guessed that a glass of rum or a cup of tea would have such historical impact?

The Kennys are Maine historians: this is her first book, his second (following “A History of Maine Railroads”  in 2020). Together they explore these two obscure historical features —  taverns and tea rooms — explaining how two very different business structures evolved and grew in need and popularity from the late 1600s.

They include short capsule histories of 60 taverns and 30 tea rooms, noting the list is not inclusive, just a sample of the more than 300 Maine taverns and tea rooms. Their research is meticulous, the narrative lively, informative and entertaining. They tell how taverns began in the late 1600s as stagecoach and traveler stops, usually 8-10 miles apart on Maine’s muddy, rutted “post” roads. Owned and patronized by men, taverns sold alcohol (rum and “flip” the most popular) and often served as government meeting places, post offices, circuit courtrooms and muster sites for local militias.

Tea rooms, however, became most popular in the 1800s as safe places for “respectable” ladies to gather to enjoy refreshment, food and conversation. Owned and operated by women, no alcohol or men permitted, tea rooms were also focal points for political discussion and planning during the women’s suffrage and temperance movements.

Learn why department stores added tea rooms, about the grisly murder and haunting in Falmouth’s Buckman Tavern, where Confederate President Jefferson Davis laid his head once, and why the Jameson Tavern in Freeport probably isn’t the “Birthplace of Maine.”

This is thirsty work.

Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.

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