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.
The following is some back and forth discussion on The Ghost Trap, the characters and Maine itself from the Goodreads book club in April. 2011.
Donna wrote: "I am really enjoying the sound of the books. The voices are real and true and they are the things that regular (?) people sound like. Of course I love Jamie and I love how he is different but still the same. Does that make sense???"
Krystal wrote: Nah. Totally makes sense. That's one of the things I like about the book, along with the whole gritty feel of the countryside and lobstering community.
Someone mentioned the whole Jamie/Anja relationship thing, and how sometimes Jamie's reactions to Anja aren't always exactly civil or something. I totally agree with K here. That's just real. I've got a cousin in her early twenties who cares for her ailing mother 24/7. To say it's hard work is an understatement. And it's natural for that kind of stress to cause people to lash out or say unkind things.
Anyway. I'm not that incredibly far into the book, but I'm making my way through. It's not my usual read, but I am enjoying it.
Erica wrote: I really like your perspective. I think this is why I enjoy this book so much; the relationships are so complicated. I think this added to what others have said earlier. I do enjoy that this novel does allow for male sympathy and doesn't just bash Jamie.
K wrote: I was told by my publisher she didn't even realize I was female until after they'd accepted the manuscript--they thought this book had been written by a man. To some degree, with the material and characters I was working with, I took this as a compliment. Not because I think men make better writers than women, but because as a female, I didn't want to get stereotyped with any "man-bashing" or overly emotional scenes. If lobstermen were going to read this (and many have) I wanted them to feel that these characters were real, were flawed and yet, people they could identify with. As it turns out, half my readership on this novel has been men. And I've been told, "I feel like these guys are one of us, like they could be living and working in this community." On the other hand, I've learned along the way, with women being the primary reading audience in the U.S, many editors just don't want an overly male-driven plot and/or characters. So with Anja's situation and with a few strong female characters (Donna, Carolyn, Happy), I tried to strike an even balance.
Nina wrote: How did you get involved in the lobstering community and how did the research process work?
K wrote: Short answer: "With extreme diplomacy." Having moved here "from away" in the mid 1990s (that's Maine-speak for someone whose grandparents weren't born here) I found myself in a quaint little harbor town eager to scratch the surface of what the Chamber of Commerce brochures were marketing. In other words, the romantic Maine, the kind of place you might see portrayed in chicklit novels about "escaping it all and moving to a Maine island," was not entirely my experience here. Well, sort of. Let's say some of the time it was. But at my favorite watering hole, I came into contact with a much more interesting archetype: the Maine fisherman. Usually, this type of guy was unshaven, boisterously cheerful and full of hell or quiet, reserved and full of life-altering stories on the water. So as I say in my bio, "after a beer or three" I got to be friends with a few of them. And because I was a journalism major, all I ever did is ask questions. At the time I was starting to formulate a loose plot (around 2000)-- no one else had really written about this subject in a fictional setting, except for "Eat, Pray, Love" author, Elizabeth Gilbert, who'd written her own version of trap wars in the compelling novel Stern Men. Apparently Gilbert (who wasn't from Maine) had hired Mainers to take her to an island so she could interview people for her book, according to those I've talked to who served as her "ambassador." Even though I had friends in the business, this wasn't a community that wanted to just hang their business out for all to see! Maine lobstering communities are notoriously TIGHT and similar to the Amish in that they have interacted as a subculture within the overall mainstream community for centuries. On the water, they serve as their own police, more often than not, and are well regarded for their ethical and sustainable fishing practices created a couple of hundred ago. So with extreme diplomacy, I researched and recorded everything I could get my hands on for about 8 years (newspaper articles, books, personal accounts, etc.) and promised those who told me true stories about illegal and underground wars they personally witnessed or experienced that I wouldn't use real names, dates or identifiable situations. You will see on my website's blog "Inside The Lobstering Life" there's an email from one such lobsterman who, on the condition of anonymity, gave me the tactics, the motivations and the archetypes of the "players"--which became the backbone of main characters Jamie Eugley, his father, James, Jamie's best friend, Thongchai and the community "Godfather" --Don Thatcher.
So, that's really how the structural part of the novel came together (the truly most difficult part--I won't lie--I had no interest in knowing how a lobster trap winch/hauler worked--but so I didn't sound like an IDIOT, I researched the hell out of it). After the novel was published, I was told I didn't get the exact elements of the cribbage scene right but hey, I'll live.
You can see more of the online discussion here.
Among Maine fishermen there are legends of spectres, particularly the story of The Hascall, as told in The Ghost Trap.
To read more of the legend of the ghostly Hascall
Congrats to Hal Learnard of Washburn, ME! In our "Best Maine Expression" contest, he won the most votes with his old-time saying:
HE'S LIKE THE BUTTON ON THE BACKHOUSE DOOR, HE'S BEEN AROUND A LOT!!!!
Now if you didn't quite get what that means (and I have to admit, I was stumped) here's Hal's explanation:
The expression comes from the LOCK on the old time out house. The door swings out and when closed it is held in the lock position by a short slat with a nail in the middle. When you turn the slat (button) AROUND one way (horizontal) it holds the door against the frame. Turn the BUTTON AROUND to the vertical position and it allows the door to open. Hence : the lock gets turned around a great deal.
Get it? Ha ha ha!!
Anyway, congrats to Hal who gets a personalized copy of The Ghost Trap sent to him today and thanks to everyone else who put in some mighty choice expressions, some of which I'll list here. Some others were just too dirty--(but freakin' funny) to print!
“Give ’er tha dinnah, guy.” Usually chanted while someone is doing something stupid and show offy in a big, muddy truck.
“She's got a wicked nice body but looks like someone took a clam rake to her face”
Being a parent: “if you can’t feed em, don't breed em.”
"It’s blowin’ like a whore at a Legionairs convention…."
" Jeeh-zus, I wus sweatin hahda than a two dollah whore on fitty cent nite."
How much a girl weighs:
"She’s four ax-handles cross the width guy, guy!!!"
How to console someone:
"Get a couplah Bud poundahs in ya and you’ll be alright there, guy."
On someone's intelligence
"Oh that guy? He’s nummah than a hake."
When your truck won't work.
"What’s wrong? Is it all stove up?"
When you see someone you think you know:
"Hey, wasn’t you the blueberry princess? Was that you up to Walmahts?"
When something goes wicked fast:
“It’s like sh** through a tin horn”
How big is her ass?
“She’s got the ass the size of a $2 mule’s”
The way Mainers comment on anything:
"Christ, bub. Jeezum, guy."
If you weren't born in Maine:
"Just because your cat has her kittens in the oven don’t mean you can call ’em biscuits."
On being scared:
"Shaking hardah than a dog sh****n’ razor blades…guy.”
The all-time classic:
“Hahd tellin’, not knowin’.”
How did you get so drunk?
"Well I was “bailin it right to me.”
On the proper way to say Bangor
“Banger – I didn’t even know her”
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.
News, bits, and musings from a Maine coast writer. Stay Salty!