On August 1, 2021 The Portland Press Herald published a piece on Maine's best lobster novels. Editor’s Note: Given Vinalhaven’s centuries-old tradition of lobstering, we asked Vinalhaven librarian Scott Candage to recommend a few novels about lobstering in Maine. These are his picks, listed in alphabetical order by writer. To read the full story, click here. (Screenshot below due to paywall).
By Susan Mustapich
August 12, 2017 CAMDEN — Four novels about the lives and loves of the men and women who fish for lobster in Maine give us a close look at the place where we live (or visit) through their authors' eyes.
All of the books center around a strong, 20-something character, along with romance and relationships and the business of lobster fishing. In "The Ghost Trap" by local author K. Stephens and "Stern Men" by Elizabeth Gilbert, trap wars, seafaring myths and superstitions play important roles in the stories, while in "Hull Creek," by Jim Nichols, the tension centers around a working fisherman and wealthy newcomers who live on the waterfront
All but "The Lobster Kings" are located in fictional settings that closely resemble nearby coastal and island fishing communities and tourist destinations on Penobscot Bay. Zentner's novel takes place on an island near the Canadian border in a setting that resembles Passamaquoddy Bay.
"The Ghost Trap," published in 2009, takes a gritty, realistic look at the life and loves of fisherman Jamie Eugely, who works out in a bay off of small-town coastal Maine. The setting is fictionalized, yet feels like a very real place, right in the Midcoast.
Jamie, who looks for adventure as far from Maine as he can drive, is drawn back to the fishing grounds his family has worked for generations, and is bound to his fiancee Anja by more than a ring. Anja, who suffered a near drowning, struggles to follows steps back to normalcy, in order to reclaim the life and love she can almost remember. The meaning of the "ghost trap" referenced in the book's title, which is open to interpretation, is connected to the circumstances that bind Jamie and Anja to one another, and make their dreams all the more difficult to catch.
In a recent interview, Stephens talked about the meaning of the term "ghost trap," both in general and to her as a writer.
"The ghost trap is a trap cut off at the surface that lies at the bottom of the ocean.That trap can be cut off by a propeller, or can be cut off by a more nefarious means, in an on-the-water conflict in the dead of night," she said. She imagines ghost traps at the bottom of the ocean. "There are lobsters in there, lives in the trap that will never come out."
"The Ghost Trap features a male lead and perspective on relationships and friendships. Stephens has seen the book draw an equal audience of men and women at book signings. She has heard dissatisfaction from female readers about the realism of Jamie and Anja's relationship. "I loved the book, but hated how realistic it was," is one of the comments she gets.
Stephens, who emulates authors Annie Proulx and Caroline Chute in tackling tough topics, said "The Ghost Trap" "is not chick lit. And it's not a chick lit subject by any stretch. The love story is a huge part of this book. There is an enduring love here in this novel, but it is not happily ever after. It's a novel of sacrifice and tenacity and a lot of pain."
"The Ghost Trap" balances the dark, with the light, for the most part. It is filled with lots of local sights and scenes, believable characters including Jamie's friend from childhood Thongchai, life in the bars, restaurants and convenience stores in Jamie's community, and dialog flavored with "elements of funny, lighthearted, bawdy humor."
Stephens was inspired to write her novel back in the 1990s by stories shared by fishermen friends, and was so concerned about accuracy that she had several fishermen read the book before it was published. At the same time, she makes it clear that as an author, she was not trying to come off as a spokesperson for the lobster industry.
"What was really important to me with this book was not only to be very authentic about the working culture of lobstering, but to also pay a little bit of tribute to the mysterious element of the deep that plays into character choices later on," she said.
The deep Stephens refers to is the cold Maine ocean. In her novel, the oxygen, phytoplankton and zooplankton, that make Maine coastal waters appear murky, give life to lobsters and other sea creatures, both real and mythological. Stephens introduces the myth of creatures that live in the sea into the modern world of lobster fishing in a believable manner. Whether selkies are seafaring superstition, or a trick of the eye and imagination caused by the shape shifting ocean, "The Ghost Trap" gives them substance in the place where a lobster boat sits atop the depths of the ocean.
"Hull Creek" is the story of Troy Hull, the last of the fishermen living and working on the waterfront in a town that wealthy visitors have made their home. The reader sees the world through Troy's eyes and thoughts: his boat, his land and dock, his town with all of its features, his friends and foes, and loves lost and found.
Alcohol-fueled adventures, raunchy dialog and a decidedly male perspective are all part of Nichols' storytelling. Yet, as Troy works to put a failed relationship behind him and fight his own insecurities, his story is a realistic view of vulnerability hidden beneath a hardened exterior.
Troy faces the problem of keeping his generational waterfront home and his new lobster boat, when the lobster catch falls off. When he falls behind on a second mortgage he took out to buy the new boat, he finds himself in the middle of relationships with people he doesn't trust, the banker who oversees his mortgage, an old friend and occasional fisherman who needs help transporting drugs, law enforcement and visitors who want more than the average tourist experience.
Will he allow himself to be pushed out of town by people who clearly do not want him there? Will he give in to the anger and hopelessness that fuel desperate measures to make the difficult choices he faces? "Hull Creek" keeps the reader guessing which way Troy will turn, right up to the end.
Gilbert, author of “Stern Men,”published in 2001, creates a body of history around the families who fish off the fictional islands of Fort Niles and Courne Haven, and moves that history forward with the story of Ruth Thomas, the book's protagonist. Ruth is the daughter of a “greedy” lobsterman and a mother who has left the island. Ruth grows up among a Dickensian collection of character's from a jumble of social classes, all thrown together by island life on Fort Niles.
After Ruth's mother Mary leaves the island, her father abandons her to the Pommeroys, a family of seven boys led by matriarch and beauty Rhonda Pommeroy, and her husband Ira, who enjoy drink and one another a little too much. Ruth is perfectly happy growing up with the Pommeroy boys, and occasionally visiting her father, who lives within walking distance. She prefers spending her days with the odd Senator Simon, obsessed with founding a history museum on the island, and his assistant Webster Pommeroy, while resisting the influences of the Ellis family, the richest clan on the island, and her mother Mary's employer. Lanford Ellis, an ancient and reclusive summer resident is the lone representative of the family that once ran a granite company and much of the island. Ruth grows up knowing that her father and other islanders believe her grandmother and her mother were crippled by their devoted service to Lanford's daughter, the demanding Miss Vera Ellis.
As Ruth nears graduation from a private off-island high school paid for by Mr. Ellis, she meets Owney Wishnell, a lobster whisperer and young man her age, and faces the dilemma of shaping her own future. The history of past lobster wars and the threat of a new struggle, her childhood with the Pommeroy family, and the aging Ellis heirs all factor into her ultimate choice.
"Stern Men" shares one of the plot devices common to chick lit. When Ruth first meets Owney, and when Cordelia finds out that Kenny's wife has left him, the reader will know that sex, love and marriage are in the future, and that many chapters will be read before any of that happens.
Courier Publications reporter Susan Mustapich can be reached at 236-8511 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ndie Spotlight: Leapfrog PressAuthor: Kate Flaherty |
Mar 12, 2015
Leapfrog Press began in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, in 1993 as the brainchild of writers Marge Piercy and Ira Wood, whose initial goal was providing an outlet for literary fiction overlooked by the big New York houses. While Piercy has served as judge for Leapfrog’s annual fiction contest, the press currently is in the hands of Managing Editor Lisa Graziano and Acquisitions Editor Rebecca Schwab. Now based out of Fredonia, New York—in storied Chautauqua County on the shores of Lake Erie—Leapfrog’s list has moved on as well. In addition to literary fiction by both new and established writers, Leapfrog publishes a smattering of nonfiction and poetry and a diverse list of middle grade and YA fiction.
What makes Leapfrog stand out as an independent press is their refreshing lack of fear when it comes to compartmentalization. Despite publishing a small number of titles per year, they’ve put out everything from mysteries to memoir, science fiction to how-to, hardboiled exposé to tender and poignant story collections. When Leapfrog says they simply want “writing that expands our webs of connection with other humans and the natural world; books that illuminate our complexities,” they really mean it.
For Ploughshares, Lisa Graziano helps readers understand the why and how of their editorial decisions, provides details on Leapfrog’s annual fiction contest (deadline is May 1!) and gives the inside scoop on Leapfrog’s future.
KF: From Mary Malloy’s historical fiction/mysteries, starring adventurous academic Lizzie Manning, whose expertise and mettle could put even Indiana Jones to shame, to Michael Mirolla’s fascinating and frightening sci-fi tale The Facility, where the future is filled with Mussolini clones, to Li Miao Lovett’s powerful novel In the Lap of the Gods, set in China during the controversial construction of the Three Gorges Dam project, Leapfrog’s list is wonderfully quirky. What qualities do your divergent titles share? What marketing challenges does this wide range of titles bring you?
LG: Good storytelling first, and we do like quirky, as you put it. But our books share a few themes to which we are partial. Many have a grounding in science, sometimes subtle, sometimes not. Some are based in important cultural and/or historical questions, whether or not they are “historical.” We don’t perceive these themes as separate. They tend to run together in many our books. You mention Malloy’s novels: Malloy is a professor of history, and she recreates the process of historical research, which involves science, in her novels. Cretaceous Dawn is a time-travel dinosaur adventure—but really a scientific look at what it would be like to hike through late Cretaceous North America.
In other titles, The Ghost Trap shows the reader the culture of Maine lobstermen, in exquisite and often sad detail. In the Lap of the Gods gives us a close-up of the human toll of the world’s greatest engineering project. Dancing at the Gold Monkey shows us the raw hurt of young men back from the Vietnam War. Berlin delves into the philosophical field of logic, twisted up with history. Death My Own Way is a precise psychological allegory about the artist as installation art. We also have a soft spot for dark humor: if you’re into that, check out the authors Vickie Weaver, Michael Graziano, Gregory Hill, Jacob White, Joan Connor, and Dmitri Zlotsky, to name a few. But to us, they are all “Leapfrogian” in their use of history, culture, and science, whatever the plot or the other themes, and whatever the format.
KF: The titles you’ve published as part of Leapfrog’s YA/middle grade fiction list indicate a strong dedication to diversity, both cultural and thematic. What are you most proud of in terms of what Leapfrog provides young readers? What prompted Leapfrog’s foray into the YA arena?
LG: We first published MG in 2008 simply because some wonderful manuscripts came our way, and they are every bit as much “literature” as our adult books. Carlon’s novels about Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong are unique—thus the support of places such as Jazz at Lincoln Center, and the awards they’ve won. They aren’t simply books about musicians. They are about the culture, the historical context, who these great musicians were as ordinary people, how they were impacted by and dealt with racism, and they’re very much about the music itself. Smelcer’s YA novels of Native Alaskans—stay tuned for Stealing Indians in 2016—are wilderness adventures in the sometimes grim context of cultural destruction and racism. B.B. Wurge’s novels have great lessons for kids about family bonds, scientific investigation, acceptance, and most of all, our wonderful imaginations, which make anything possible—even immortality on the moon.
KF: Your fiction contest guidelines are remarkably broad; Leapfrog will consider submissions of adult, young adult, and/or middle grade fiction in the form of a novel, novellas, or a short story collection. It seems your only strict requirement is a minimum of 22,000 words. How does this flexibility work in Leapfrog’s favor? How does your contest differ from your regular reading period?
LG: Regular submissions are judged on a query letter with synopsis and a short sample, with the author’s publication record as part of the decision. The contest is quite different. An entire manuscript is submitted and read by several judges, and the judging is “blind.” We don’t know anything about the manuscript, since there is no synopsis. We simply read and see where it takes us. The author’s publication record is unknown and therefore not a consideration. And knowing nothing about the theme or plot in advance makes it exciting to open each entry. Sometimes we’re hopelessly caught by the first line, such as these from some of our winners: “One day, the wind blew. It lifted the dust and took it away. The next day was Thursday…” (The Lonesome Trials of Johnny Riles); “This is how bad it’s gotten: I dream about the U.P.S. man.” (How to Stop Loving Someone); “Look. Have you ever tried to right a car you yourself have tumbled?” (Being Dead in South Carolina); “The old family farm is going to drown. . . .You can’t think of anything to do but throw an enormous party.” (And Yet They Were Happy). There are so many more. Others sneak in and quietly grow on us.
The months of reading entries are insanely busy and very special, with a lot of self-inflicted all-nighters. Opening the contest to any book-length work of fiction gives us a huge variety. We don’t want to exclude novellas just because they’re short, or story collections just because they are a harder sell than novels. We simply look for what we think is the best.
KF: What else should writers and readers know about Leapfrog’s future? Upcoming titles? Other contests in the works?
LG: Our next four titles, this summer and fall, are Gregory Hill’s The Lonesome Trials of Johnny Riles, a darkly hilarious Western unlike any you’ve ever read; John Smelcer’s YA novel Savage Mountain; Michael Gutierrez’s The Trench Angel, a historical Western and WWI; and Girl Singer, an adult novel steeped in the Jazz world from Mick Carlon.
This review is courtesy of Caite, author of the book review blog, A Lovely Shore Breeze. She happens to like books about the sea...here is the link to the full review.
July 25, 2013
Many of us have slightly romantic ideas of Maine..and no, you are not going to take mine away from me.
But we know the reality, like the reality of every place, is a little different.
Lobstering is a hard life, a hard way to make a living. There is the weather, often harsh, the work, back breaking and dangerous. The prices may fall, or the lobsters disappear, but the bills are still due. The boat needs repairs, your friend gets arrested, the lifelong fights with your father go on and on. And there are the trap wars, going back generations, agreements about who can put their traps where, with those that try to push the limits ending up with their gear at the bottom of the ocean..or worse.
But this is Jamie Eugley's life, like his father and his father before him. He is a lobsterman and things are hard. I will warn you, from the beginning you know this story can not have a happy ending. Jamie has not only the daily grind of the work and the sometimes careful dance of dealing with his friends and family and his neighbors, but he also has taken on himself the burden of caring for his brain-injured girlfriend Anja.
He feels responsible for the accident that caused her injury...it will be well into the book when we find out what happened and you can decide yourself how much guilt he should bear...and has taken care of her though the last three years of her painstakingly slow recovery. Perhaps a tiny part of him hopes that someday the beautiful young school teacher, the talented artist he was about to propose to will return, hidden now in the almost child-like Anja he cares for. Maybe the saddest part of the books are our views into Anja thoughts, her own glimpses of clarity, the relentless return of the fog that clouds her days.
Jamie is a loyal man, but as the pressures of work build, as he meets Happy Klein, a mate on a tourist schooner up from Key West for the summer, he dares to glimpse another future, away from his history, away from his responsibilities. But to grasp at it he will have to abandon who he believes he is...and who we come to believe he is.
But hold on, I don't want to paint too grim a picture here. At times the book is very funny, some of Jamie's friends quite amusing. It is a gritty life, with ways too many DUIs, maybe because the local bar is their one refuge but one and all, they are a great cast of characters. I particularly enjoyed the description of a trip up the coast a bit that Jamie takes with one of his friends to a party in Camden. It brilliantly shows us the differences in the worlds of the natives vs. the privileged summer folk, quite entertaining. Stephens, for whom this is her debut novel, has a excellent ear and the dialogue, as in all of the book, is spot on.
These characters will be so real to you, the story so authentic, you will be on the edge of your seat hoping against hope that somehow it will all work our happily for everyone, yet knowing it can not. Personally, I could not put it down, reading it straight through in one day. The ending is just a little heartbreaking, yes. But you will just have to know how it will all play out, so you will happily read on..and maybe shed a few tears at the ending.
Excellent book, highly recommended.
National Fisherman review
In the time it takes for a lobster trap to spill overboard, lobsterman Jamie Eugley finds his life horribly and irrevocably changed in Maine author K. Stephens's compelling debut novel, The Ghost Trap. Young Eugley finds himself grappling with the grinding responsibilities of caring for his head-injured fiancee Anja, after she is dragged overboard by a lobster trap shooting into the water.
Eugley is also in the midst of trap wars that are escalating dangerously, further ratcheting up the stress level. James Acheson, author of The Lobster Gangs of Maine, praises Stephens for giving readers "an unvarnished view of the subculture of lobster fishermen in small-town coastal Maine."
The story isn't all doom and gloom. Stephens's characters are well drawn and the dialogue is sharp and often humorous. But ultimately the story is about Eugley, an old-fashioned hero who puts family and heritage before self--and how he deals with the sorrow and regret of his lost love. (January, 2010)
This one, from
D. Cloyce Smith (Brooklyn, NY)
on Amazon, nails the elements of the novel.
Burdened by the hard knocks of life in a Maine town populated by families who have been in the lobstering trade for several generations, Jamie Eugley is a man with a good heart and an explosive temper. He so wants to do the right thing, but as often as not, he can shatter his best intentions with an outburst that results almost immediately in regrets and repercussions. He lives with the worries of his hand-to-mouth business and the oppressive responsibilities of caring for Anja, a former girlfriend who has been seriously incapacitated by a head trauma (the cause of which is unveiled some way into the book) and whom he has sworn never to abandon. His lifelong friends bring him amusement and loyalty tinged with occasional embarrassment. He has almost surrendered to the tyrannical drudgery of his so-called life when he meets a bohemian, tomboyish hippie chick named (of all things) Happy.
At times, Jamie reminds me of a character from a Halldor Laxness novel--a faintly loutish but likable hero intrigued by the cosmopolitan world outside his small-town surroundings yet aware that he could never be a part of it. When he goes to the rich-kids rave at which he meets Happy, he is surprised that they are "sociable and accepting, even of him in his blue work shirt," yet he realizes that it "wouldn't be the other way around." A few years earlier, he had even attempted an escape that brought him to the Portland on America's other coast, but it didn't take him long to realize he will always be a modern-day yeoman and, discouraged and broke, he returned home. Yet that longing for something different sets him apart from his friends--his dalliance with Happy only rekindles the hunger--and it's this conflict between the world of realities and the world of possibilities that will result in tragedy and, ultimately, his redemption. Jamie isn't just a lobsterman, he's Everyman who has ever wanted to be more than he is.
"The Ghost Trap" is not just a good read, it is an excellent novel--and I'm almost ready to proclaim it as the best work of contemporary fiction that I've read this year. (It's certainly the best debut.) Stephens's knack for plotting is enhanced by her ear for impeccable dialogue (both local and urban) and by authentic interior monologue: her portrayal of Happy is so dead-on that I felt like I knew her, and some passages simply awed me with their lyrical precision. There are as many hilarious moments as poignant ones--yet the novel never once stoops to sentimentality. And there's enough of a plot--involving a mystery set off by decades-long territorial feuds between lobstermen--to satisfy the reader expecting more than a character study. Stephens has given her deeply flawed saint a life worth examining.
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