Readers seeking splendid Maine fiction can add one more book to the shelf. In Alice Elliott Dark’s “Fellowship Point,” the title serves double duty: It is the setting itself, an idyllic coastal Maine retreat, the subject of a suspenseful dispute over land and inheritance. It’s also a mythic ideal, long held as the vision of an early Quaker settler who saw in the point’s natural splendor new possibilities for utopian community. Within that myth lie many contradictions, and Dark’s expansive novel explores questions of class, gender, colonization and our relationship to an environment in peril.

Two aging descendants of that early Quaker experiment are the book’s beating heart. Agnes Lee is brilliant, irascible and fiercely independent, a noted children’s book author who secretly pens novels for adults that skewer the wealthy Philadelphia society she was born into. Polly Wister, her lifelong best friend, is a devoted wife and mother who spends her days smoothing the way for others. Polly is easy to underestimate, and many do, but she possesses great insight and wit, and is far more socially adept than Agnes.

Both women winter in Philadelphia but feel most at home in Maine. (Dark lives in New Jersey but clearly loves Maine’s coast; she attended summer camp in Maine as a girl, and the setting was inspired by Mount Desert Island.) Agnes and Polly have spent a lifetime of summers together on Fellowship Point, lucky shareholders in a collective land agreement envisioned by Agnes’s great-grandfather: five families own the point, which can only be sold if three agree to it. Their connection to the place is generational, emotional, spiritual and steeped in high-minded stewardship. The point was an early Abenaki campsite, and the subsequent Quaker settlers unearthed important artifacts that they kept on the land, refusing to sell to museums or collectors.

In their 80s and fearing the greedy, short-sighted impulses of their inheritors and some opportunistic local developers, Agnes enlists Polly in a plan to ensure the point will be protected in a trust after their deaths.

“Moose had been spotted there, regrettably not by Agnes, but she kept track of the eagles and had friends among the squirrel families generation after generation. Sometimes she could draw on the beauty so wholeheartedly that she felt as though she had metabolized it, and that it had become an organ inside of her. … she was determined to keep it safe for the birds, the animals, the flowers, the trees. More than ever, the world needed places free of human notions. … (It) would be her great legacy for which she wanted no credit. Anonymity had become ingrained.”

When an aspiring young book editor, Maud Silver, appears on the scene hoping to convince Agnes to write a memoir, Agnes’s prized anonymity – and a long-buried secret – are at risk of exposure. A family friend is falsely accused of theft, highlighting tensions and inequities between locals and the summer people. Will Agnes and Polly manage to save Fellowship Point, and repair a devastating rift in their friendship? How might Agnes’s burgeoning friendship with Maud complicate her literary legacy, and her understanding of a formative loss? Can Polly cast off decades of duty and finally assert her own wishes?


Evocative of the best 19th- and early 20th-century novels (and not just because of the inheritance plot), “Fellowship Point” creates an immersive world for readers to sink into, a page-turner that delivers wisdom and sustenance. With its meaty plot, witty dialogue, large cast of characters and attention to the inner worlds of complex women navigating social pitfalls, Dark pays homage to “Howards End,” “Middlemarch” and “The House of Mirth” (and a plot twist in the novel’s final quarter is positively Dickensian). Dark gives her indelible characters room to change, clash, mourn and delve deeply into questions about how to live and what we owe each other.

By the novel’s close, Agnes feels as connected as ever to Fellowship Point, but her understanding has evolved from a sense of ownership to something altogether less boundaried and more essential. Conversations with Mary Mitchell, a young Abenaki woman accused of killing eagles, bring new insights; these conversations take place largely off-page. Here one senses editorial pressures, a need to winnow the lengthy page count; still, I would have loved to hear more of Mary’s voice. In a stunning scene that moves fluidly through the consciousness of multiple characters, a veil falls and Agnes gains pivotal new understanding of how she might best serve the place she loves.

“Agnes took ten long breaths of ocean air, raising and lowering her arms as she inhaled and exhaled. The breath of life. She bent down and touched her forehead to the ground. Soon enough she’d be in this earth, and that would be all right.”

Agnes and Polly’s relationship shifts as well, a testament to the way long friendships, never static, can make us better. Early in the novel, walking around the point with Agnes, Polly recalls her childhood fear of using a rope swing to soar over the water like her friends.

“ ‘I was a coward,’ she said aloud, ‘don’t you agree?’ She and Agnes had lived through all of life together.

” ‘It ain’t over,’ Agnes said ruefully.”

This observation – that it’s never too late to change, in our relationships to one another, to our histories, and to the earth we inhabit – is one of the book’s central tenets.

If I’m looking for any quality in a storyteller these days, it’s an underlying sense that we humans, for all our shadows, blind spots and existential challenges, are worth the trouble. In centering two women nearing the end of their lives and still grappling with profound questions of legacy, love and creative ambition – still growing – Alice Elliott Dark offers ample reason to hope.

Genanne Walsh is the author of a novel, “Twister.” She lives in Portland.

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