photo: Dale Landreth
George Smith, Bangor Daily News
The Ghost Trap is a compelling novel, propelling you along through the deep water, on board Jamie Eugley’s lobster boat of a life, anchored to a brain-damaged girlfriend who nearly died after being swept off the boat and ever-after becomes his burden, with a lobstering father who hates him, a daily life full of beer, boasts, bragging and battles, and friends who seem – well, not so friendly. From trap wars to human tragedies, this is life at it’s grittiest – or it’s best, depending on whether you think lobstering is the best or worst of all possible jobs and life in a small coastal fishing village is paradise or hell on earth. Truthfully, it’s a bit of both.
Publishers Weekly Fiction Reviews
The Ghost Trap K. Stephens. Leapfrog, $15.95 (332p) ISBN 978-0-9815148-7-1
In her impressive debut novel, Stephens offers a rugged and tender tale. Jamie Eugley, a ninth-generation lobsterman in the port village of Owls Head has cared for his brain-injured girlfriend, Anja, for three long years. Jamie suffers deep guilt over her near drowning accident while aboard his lobster boat and her subsequent debilitating coma. Anja's medical improvement has been frustratingly slow, but Jamie continues to nurse his naïve, stubborn fantasy of marrying the recovered Anja. Meanwhile, he deals with a dangerous and violent trap war among the lobstermen and a romance with Happy Klein, a first mate on a tourist schooner up for the summer season who wants Jamie to come back with her to Key West. The bawdy humor, snappy dialogue, colorful local sea myths and rich lobstering details add to the immense appeal of this textured narrative about a superstitious but independent lobsterman's inward and outward struggles. (September, 2009)
Sorrowful Tale Set Against The Backdrop of A Maine Lobstering Community
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)
Maine Sunday Telegram
The Ghost Trap Hooks readers With Its Depth and Heart, Lloyd Ferriss
The Ghost Trap tells the story of a 27-year-old lobster fisherman faced with huge challenges. Jamie Eugley is the caretaker of his brain-injured girlfriend, Anja. He feels guilty because the accident that rendered her helpless happened on his boat. His life is further complicated when fellow lobstermen start cutting one another's traps in a territory dispute.
In her masterful story, Stephens weaves the three plotlines -- the brain-injured woman, the lobster war and the temptation of Jamie -- into a tale with an unexpected ending that is chillingly real. (January, 2010)
The Morning Sentinel, Bill Bushnell
Fiction about Maine lobstering and life on the working waterfront is usually coarse, profane and gritty, and THE GHOST TRAP is no different but for one exception. This sensitive and dramatic story is notable for its convincing humanity. THE GHOST TRAP is the powerful debut novel of Maine writer K. Stephens, a woman whose published articles have covered schooners, food, wine, teenagers and Maine personalities. Here she debunks the tourists' romantic image of Maine fishermen, revealing the hard work of lobstering, the strict, unwritten codes of territoriality and conflict resolution, disintegrating traditions, violence, alcohol and drug abuse and economic despair. Jamie Eugley is a 27-year-old third- generation lobsterman from Petit Point on Penobscot Bay, struggling to make boat and truck payments while also caring for his brain-damaged girlfriend, Anja. She was injured while fishing with him, and the weight of Jamie's guilt is wearing him down. As if he doesn't have enough to worry about, arrogant yachties are poaching lobsters, the foul-mouthed, violent and drug-dealing Fogartys are about to start a trap war, and a newcomer ignores all the local customs and fishes in Jamie's territory. Jamie does his best to help Anja with her slow recovery, but she is nearly helpless, entirely dependent on him for everything, a heavy burden indeed. But then Jamie meets Happy, a carefree girl working on a summertime schooner. He likes her because "You make my drinking look like it's not a problem," and he knows that only bad things can result from this quirky relationship. Stephens is a masterful storyteller, smartly blending her vividly descriptive narrative with action, suspense, a haunting atmosphere and very clever, bawdy and colorful dialogue. The conclusion is believable and strangely satisfying, with a few plot twists and a strong element of predictable sadness.
The Working Waterfront - Review
A timely novel, Tina Cohen
In lobstering lingo, a "ghost trap" results from the cutting off of a trap, accidental or otherwise.
What should work well-a functioning trap lowered in the water that catches and holds lobsters until hauled-goes missing in action when cut off, its line severed, no longer connected to the buoy bobbing at the water's surface that allows for retrieval. A ghost trap, unseen, becomes lost and then forgotten.
That image is a central motif in the new novel of that name by Midcoast writer K. Stephens. The Ghost Trap (Leapfrog Press, 2009) is Stephens' first published book. Her knowledge of the area where the story takes place, the stretch of Maine coast between Owl's Head and Camden, is evident.
But Stephens' acumen is also demonstrated in other details, like describing a character's cognitive disabilities and, most outstandingly, with her superb limning of lobstering. Without sounding pedantic, exploitive, or condescending, she offers the reader a lot to think about, and provides a lot of information in an unobtrusive way.
Stephens creates a fictionalized coastal village called Petit Point for her microcosmic community where lobstering is the main activity. She looks at three generations of the Eugley family-grandfather, father, and thirty-something son, Jamie-who all fish for a living.
The book plumbs Jamie's life in particular-his relationships with family, friends and fishermen, and with girlfriend Anja. Is Jamie a typical lobsterman? Stephens validates some expectations of what that "lifestyle" might include: the language and banter, drinking, loyalty to kith and kin, machismo, and physical toll on one's body.
Anja, too, is a multifaceted character while representing a "type." In her case, she's brain-damaged from an accident. She goes to a day program, requires close supervision, and acts like, sounds like a young child instead of the professional artist and teacher she was. She and Jamie no longer share a bedroom, no longer anticipate a wedding. Their relationship has been redefined and readers watch Jamie struggle with the limits and demands her care imposes.
And that isn't the only drama in his life. There's been cutting of gear, a "trap war," with increasingly hostile actions between Petit Point lobstermen and those from nearby "Courage." With the events of this past summer-alobsterman shot and seriously injured on Matinicus Island, three lobster boats maliciously sunk off Owl's Head-Stephens' story is a timely one, offering insight into what's been described as an invisible war, part of the subculture of lobstering. In The Ghost Trap, it's a world that feels pretty bleak, full of hard choices and life's hard knocks.
Stephens doesn't offer us any moralistic lessons from superhuman heroes here. It seems her story is really about people who become ghost traps; how a person could feel cast off, disconnected, useless, forgotten. She offers a number of characters who might be understood as experiencing that kind of limbo. Could some of them be restored to a meaningful life, rehabilitated, given a second chance? To answer that, we'd need a sequel. So, K Stephens, if you're listening: I'm looking forward to what's next.
Films, book provide engaging look at fisheries issue
October 4, 2009
Excerpt: Stephens uses language that is rich in description and her dialogue rings with accents of the Maine Coast. Her description of…strong characters engage the readers and bring the enigmatic culture of lobstering communities to life.
Amazon Customer Reviews (averaging 4.5 star reviews)
D. Cloyce Smith (Brooklyn, NY) - See all my reviewsThis review is from: The Ghost Trap (LeapLit) (Paperback)
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.
Ah, the romanticism of life as a lobsterman in Maine... NOT! By Robert Schmidt
The fresh air, honest work, and good food... how many of us wish we had that simple life as a lobsterman in Maine, the home of the highest quality lobsters in the world?
Except... sometimes the lobsters aren't there but the mortgage payment and bills are. Sometimes the need to fish is there but the weather doesn't cooperate. Then there is the competition for prime lobster trapping areas, the cost of traps and bait, and the knuckle-busting, back-breaking work. And the stress, with its escapist drinking, and the drinking leading to the coming-of-age DUIs, and the DUIs resulting in grievous injuries...
In The Ghost Trap, author K. Stephens introduces us to Jamie Eugley, a lobsterman like his father, and his father's father. On top of everything else, he is committed to caring for his girlfriend, Anja, who suffered a brain injury in a near drowning accident. Jamie's life gets even more complicated, as he meets an exciting and vivacious sailor named Happy, and gets involved in the escalating lobster trap wars between competing families and towns.
This novel was just enthralling, and you'll have no idea how things are going to turn out until the end. Author Stephens brings her knowledge of the sea and lobstering to good use, as she mixes in unique characters and a constant tension that continues to simmer for over 300 pages.
This is a sad, sad story, but a very good novel. Recommended.
Suzanne Kamata, author, Losing Kei
Stephens is a terrific writer. In this novel, she brings to life a group of Maine lobstermen, including Jamie Eugley, who, at 27, is the guardian of his former fiancee - a young woman named Anja who sustained a brain-injury after falling off of his boat. He is torn between his strong sense of responsibility and the possibility of starting over again with another woman, in another place. The characters are vibrant and complicated. Stephens managed to make me feel compassion for a bunch of beer-swilling rednecks, and by the end of the book, she had broken my heart.
Corinne H. Smith (Athol, Ma)See all her reviews
Author K. Stephens has made her debut in the fiction genre with a powerful character-driven novel that deserves a wide readership: one well beyond its setting in the chilly coastal waters of Maine.
Jamie Eugley is a 27-year-old lobsterman with a long reputation of being an impulsive hot-head. Yet he's hunkered down into the family business and has developed his own strict work ethic, based mainly on the teachings of his grandfather Maynard. And Jamie has nourished a soft spot, too. He's taking care of Anja, his disabled girlfriend. Emotions and urges continue to pull young Jamie in disparate directions. He's committed to his responsibility for Anja; and yet he still wants to hang out with the local buddies who booze, brawl, play cribbage, and accumulate OUI charges like badges of honor. It's difficult enough to straddle those lines and choose the right path.
But three years in the care-giving role with its intense and nonstop worries are beginning to unravel Jamie. Enter Happy Klein, a charismatic sailor who is up from Florida for the summer. Can Jamie spend time with this new friend without feeling guilty? Or is Happy a contemporary mermaid who will lure him too close to shore and dash him onto the rocks? Always, in the background or under his feet, is the ocean, weaving its own kind of magic. The rekindling of the storied trap war between the Eugleys and the Fogarties merely serves to bring everything to a disturbing climax. Can Jamie ride it all out and survive?
This is not RESORT Maine. This is not what tourists expect to encounter when they come from away. It is not at all what diners think of when they crack open a red carapace, dig out the pink and white meat, and swirl it around in a puddle of sizzling hot butter. The author has offered up a community of characters with real-life flaws here. All of them understand the inherent dangers of living close to the sea.
Even if you're not familiar with Maine -- and even if you think you could care less about the lives of lobstermen -- these compelling individuals anchor your imagination and reel you in for the duration. (!) Readers of either sex who enjoy not only an intriguing plot but also the craftsmanship of fine writing should be directed to pick up this book. You will savor every page. And you might come up with at least three separate identities for the real "ghost trap."