SPOONHANDLE by Ruth Moore; Islandport Press, 2020; 391 pages, $17.95.


As promised earlier this year, Islandport Press has continued to republish the novels of acclaimed Maine writer Ruth Moore (1903-1989), with this second of her 14 books.
“Spoonhandle” was originally published in 1946, following 1943’s “The Weir.”  After 14 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list it was made into the 20th Century Fox feature film “Deep Waters” in 1948, starring Dana Andrews, Jean Peters and Cesar Romero (and nominated for an Oscar for special effects).
Moore continues her wonderfully entertaining literary legacy with “Spoonhandle,” set in the Depression-era years of 1936-1937 as a Maine coastal community struggles to survive amidst family discord, economic uncertainty, and a disturbing influx of wealthy summer people eager to cheat the locals out of their valuable waterfront property — a class conflict fueled by lies, schemes and swindles.
With her signature talents for color, atmosphere, dialogue and careful, convincing characterizations, Moore creates a delightfully intricate story that faithfully blends suspense, romance and contention with warmth, kindness and selfless humanity.
The Stilwell family has lived on Big Spoon Island for generations. Agnes, the older daughter, is a pushy, self-absorbed snob. Pete, the oldest brother, a town selectman, owns the general store and is a conniving cheat, liar and con man. Willie and Hod are the two youngest brothers, both good-hearted, honest fishermen who refuse to sell their small island to an arrogant rich tycoon for his future summer mansion.
Social and economic conflicts cause islanders to take sides with greed and self-interest pushing against tradition and what’s right. Add a tender romance between Hod and a pretty female writer, a rebellious teenage orphan, a shunned Portuguese family, the quirky Ladies Aid Society, a terrible tragedy and Willie’s surprise decision, and Moore offers a marvelously endearing story.
But warning: Don’t do business with Pete.

“First Franco: Albert Beliveau in Law, Politics, and Love” by Douglas Rooks; Franco American Programs/University of Maine Press, Orono, Maine, 2021; 282 pages, hardcover, $28.


If you are thinking of breaking the law, it might be wise to consult with a lawyer first: especially a lawyer like Albert Beliveau. Later you might have to appear before Judge Beliveau.
“First Franco” is West Gardiner author Douglas Rooks’ excellent biography of Albert Beliveau (1887-1971), a remarkable Franco-American jurist who set a high standard of civic participation for hard-working, ambitious immigrants in Maine. Rooks is a journalist, former editor and publisher of the Maine Times.
Rooks explores the life and times of Judge Beliveau within the historical framework of legal and judicial politics, World War I, the Crash of 1929 and the struggles of Franco-Americans — “the largest minority group in Maine’s history” — with nativism and rampant discrimination over their language, religion, culture and heritage.
He vividly describes Beliveau’s childhood, growing up in poverty in Lewiston, his desire to excel in school, success at law school (recording the highest score on the bar exam), greater success as a practicing attorney, and later as a judge on the Maine Supreme Court (the first Franco to achieve that status) and as the champion of the American Legion and support for disabled veterans. Rooks also wisely blends in the period’s social, economic and political issues, and Beliveau’s belief that discrimination in any form should never stand in anyone’s way.
Stories of his career as a lawyer and judge are fascinating. As the Oxford County Attorney he once hiked 10 miles into the Maine woods with the sheriff and a Pinkerton detective to arrest a suspected murderer. As a judge he often visited inmates at the state prison.
And his outlook on life is charmingly exemplary, especially when considering his many professional achievements. When asked to name the high point of his life, he replied, “My marriage to Margaret.”
Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.

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