Review: A deeply-flawed saint
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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