“Maiden Cove: A Novel” by Roy Knight; self-published, 2020; 292 pages, paperback, $10.80.

Roy Knight grew up just about a stone’s throw from Maiden Cove in Cape Elizabeth, right on the channel into Portland Harbor. As a teenager in the mid-1960s, he learned lobstering in that channel from a school friend barely older than him. He was a good student, a starter on a basketball team that played for the state championship, a graduate of Bowdoin College.

After college he spent a while teaching and coaching, but was called back to fishing. He worked on a lobster boat and on a dragger out of Portland, and then as a lobster buyer. He ran a greenhouse in western Maine, and later took up work as a pipefitter. But if his novel “Maiden Cove” tells us anything about him, it’s that fishing at sea runs as deep as memory will let it. Which is deep.

The story’s narrator, Alan White, is looking back across the decades to his teenage years. Young Alan found himself the third side of a love triangle involving a girl just older than him and James, his precariously trusting friend and lobstering mentor. We follow the development of Alan’s adolescent crush on sexy, flirtatious Barbara Jean, through his confusion as she plays him against James, and the inevitable complications in high school.

While the love triangle is the force that drives the plot, the book’s true center is the fishing life Alan learns from James, the youngest in a line of ancestral Maine fishermen. James teaches Alan to bait traps, measure lobsters, tie knots, read lobster buoys. Alan learns the unwritten laws of fishing territories and how to stand up to stone-faced, gear-tampering fishermen. A retired lobsterman in Alan’s neighborhood, Old Charley, also takes Alan under his wing and teaches him things James can’t yet, including how and when to fish a spot in the channel that only Charley knows about.

This all adds up to “Maiden Cove” presenting what’s probably one of the most carefully detailed fictionalizations we have of lobstering on the Maine coast.

I make this claim on the basis of personal recognition. For one thing, I had a similar, if less extensive experience of lobstering as Alan. And for another thing, the author and I grew up in Cape Elizabeth at the same time, and knew each other. It may or may not be apparent to general readers that “Maiden Cove” is not only a coming-of-age story, but also in part a roman a cléf outlined from Roy Knight’s own past.

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Not all of the book’s events actually took place, but readers familiar with Cape Elizabeth of 50 years ago are apt to recognize, in addition to Maiden Cove, its Casino Beach, Ram Island, the Cookie Jar bakery, St. Alban’s church, the Harris Co., Bowdoin College, the boys basketball team that played in the state Class B final in the early 1970s. Even the real names of several people appear slyly in passing.

But the book’s elemental force is the shape it gives to boyhood memories of the sea. “I always knew I’d come back,” the elder Alan reminisces to begin his story as he stands on Bailey Island, “maybe not to this exact spot, but back far enough so that if I could look out on a clear day, I could see across the bay to where everything both came alive and came unraveled.”

“Maiden Cove” is not a fully polished book, but it’s a thoughtful, sometimes wry depiction of a young guy’s real life on Maine’s coast in the 1960s and ’70s. An authentic evocation of the brine-soaked, bait-stinking, perilous, deeply moving lobstering life.

Roy Knight now lives in Holden, Massachusetts, where he paints and writes. “Maiden Cove” is available through online book sellers.

Off Radar takes note of poetry and books with Maine connections. Dana Wilde is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. Contact him at [email protected].

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