THE MIDCOAST: A NOVEL  by Adam White; Hogarth/Random House, New York, 2022; 336 pages, hardcover, $27.


On wealth, French philosopher Honore de Balzac (1799-1850) once wrote: “Behind every great fortune there is a crime.” And when Andrew returned to his hometown of Damariscotta, Maine, he walked right into both and did not know it.

“The Midcoast” is Damariscotta native Adam White’s debut novel, a dark, brooding story about one midcoast Maine family, how it began dirt poor, grew, prospered, gathered wealth and prestige until one day it all fell apart. This would have been a good crime mystery, but White lets the reader see it all unraveling before the characters realize what’s really going on. The only mystery left then is how the story will end and this is a surprise.

Ed and Steph Thatch are long-time Damariscotta residents, the richest folks in town. He’s a former lobsterman, now a respected businessman, and she’s the town manager.  Their son is a Damariscotta police officer and their daughter is a star collegiate athlete. Big house, big egos and big plans are all on display for everyone to see. Then Andrew comes home after a middling career as a high school English teacher, lacrosse coach and budding novelist. Andrew (don’t all him Andy) and Ed grew up together, but did not like each other. They weren’t friends then, and they’re not friends now.

Through false friendship, town gossip, simmering tension and a troubling police file Andrew wasn’t supposed to see, he begins to wonder about the Thatch family. And he is not the only one — a bank investigator and a savvy local reporter soon piece things together and before long Ed and Steph are in somebody’s crosshairs.

Add rampant police corruption, political expedients, murder and self-serving justifications, and White spins a yarn that makes the town of Damariscotta seem like the “slowly revving engine of Mainers going nowhere.”


THE BEST I CAN DO: A COLLECTION OF (NUMEROUS) HUMOROUS ESSAYS AND (TRITE) LIGHT VERSE by John Branning; Pusillanimous Books, 2022; 194 pages, $14.95; ISBN 978-0-9970773-9-1.


American writer James Thurber (1894-1961) wrote: “The wit makes fun of other people; the satirist makes fun of the world; the humorist makes fun of himself.” Refreshingly, Winthrop writer John Branning has managed to become all three, and to good effect.

Branning bills himself a humorist, but he also displays biting wit and scathing satire, as well as hilarious self-deprecating humor in his stories, commentaries and light verse. And he’s pretty darn funny, too. This is his sixth book, a collection of short observations on topics like politics, marriage, dentists, yoga, food, mangled language and the mysteries of bitcoin.

He does complain, however, that he is the victim of writer’s “snubbery,” suffering year after year without winning a Pulitzer Prize or the lucrative MacArthur Foundation Fellow Award. Surely, his essay “I Know You’re Up there Somewhere: the Story of Suppositories” is worthy of such lofty recognition. He has less fond memories of the crimes his mother committed against food, but does offer this helpful kitchen tip: “You can use panty hose instead of cheesecloth to strain foods. I do, however, recommend waiting until your wife takes them off.”

Branning is also an expert with puns, bon mots and malaprops, enjoying the challenge of mangling punctuation and language, asking why nobody knows or cares about words like umlaut, glyphs or diaresis. His snarky poetry features 34 poems about Donald Trump (not a fan), but only one charmer about cream cheese.

On holiday celebrations he is split. Birthdays are a waste of time, because they only celebrate the fact that you are just one more day not dead. Wedding anniversaries deserve attention because they take two people, and celebrate the work you devote to last one more year together.

OK, now go look up bon mots, malaprops, pusillanimous and sniglets.

Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: