Before she ate, prayed, and loved, Elizabeth Gilbert wowed critics with her debut novel Stern Men, the story of a girl’s coming of age on a lobster fishing island off the coast of Maine. Narrator Allyson Ryan doesn’t so much invite us onto Fort Niles as much as she accepts that we snuck on, stowed away on one of the lobster boats in the harbor. Ryan’s measured, spare delivery is the perfect vehicle for Gilbert’s pragmatic, modernist prose and our heroine Ruth’s practical idealism.
It may be that no man is an island, but in Stern Men, a woman certainly can be. As Ruth grows up in what’s left of her hollow shell of a family divided by tragedy and pride the only true identity she claims is with the island itself and its quirky inhabitants, Mrs. Pommeroy and Senator Simon Addams.
Ryan’s voice is quick changing, like island weather at one moment leaving the listener with a damp chill and the next warming the story with sunlight. Time is slow moving on Fort Niles Ruth spends hours on the beach with Senator Simon Addams as he collects items for a natural history museum and days in Mrs. Pommeroy’s kitchen watching her cut hair.
Stern Men feels like the kind of morning that lasts all afternoon stoic and gray. I agreed with the islanders especially Ruth’s mysterious and wealthy grandfather that Ruth should leave the island to go to college and begin her life. But Ruth knows her life is about to begin among the lobsters and the craggy rocks she’s known all her life. Although Ruth Thomas is surrounded by stern men, she is most certainly at the helm. Sarah Evans Hogeboom
Gilbert utterly captures the American spirit through an unforgettable heroine who is destined for greatness - and love - despite herself.
©2009 Elizabeth Gilbert; (P)2009 Penguin
The beauty of Gilbert's book is that she gives us an isolated rural culture, and refuses to settle for finding humor in its backwardness. Instead she gives us a community of uneducated but razor-sharp wits, and produces an impressive comic debut. (Amazon.com review)
"Gilbert's comic timing grows sharper in the second half, and her gift for lively, authentic dialogue and atmospheric settings continually lights up this entertaining, and surprisingly thought-provoking, romp." (Publishers Weekly)
Having spent summers since my birth on a small Maine coast island similar to Fort Niles, I am very familiar with the lobster wars, and eagerly anticipated listening to this book. But what I found was a monotonous chronology of events which left me completely unengaged. What little personal conversation occurred between the characters often involved a prolonged litany of expletives, as if the author could not think of anything else for them to say. Although the author repeatedly made a point of the very distinct Maine accent, the narrator just didn't capture it. She sounded as much like a Brooklynite as a Maine fisherman. I would think that for an audiobook that emphasizes a local accent it would be important to find a narrator who is able to employ that accent in her reading. While there were a few interesting points in the book, overall it was a huge disappointment.
This book goes off into rambling and uninteresting histories of two islands off the coast of Maine. Intermittently the family history of the protaganist is told in long, boring detail. Initially you want to know what is going to happen to Ruth Thomas, an educated girl living among ignorant people stuck in the past, but the story goes on too long without engaging the reader. I would not recommend wasting the credits/money.
It was a little slow going in the beginning as she was introducing all the characters but I ended up loving this book. Once I saw how it all came together I wanted to start at the beginnning and listen again.
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