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Editorial Reviews

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

Publisher's Summary

Off the coast of Maine, Ruth Thomas is born into a feud fought for generations by two groups of local lobstermen over fishing rights for the waters that lie between their respective islands. At 18, she has returned from boarding school - smart as a whip, feisty, and irredeemably unromantic - determined to throw over her education and join the "stern men" working the lobster boats.

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

Critic Reviews

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)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
  • Jean
  • Modesto , CA, USA
  • 05-04-10

Thumbs Down!

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.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Keri
  • Southfield, MI, United States
  • 01-05-10

Rambling and irrelevant

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.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Brandy
  • Valparaiso, IN, USA
  • 01-29-10

Loved it!

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.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • W.Denis
  • Savannah, GA, United States
  • 10-28-09

Very good Pictorial

Also a good story. My only reservation is that it ends rather abruptly.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

No stars actually........

This book wasn’t for you, but who do you think might enjoy it more?

Not sure, the review sounded promising but the writing was not what I thought it might be. The characters were not developed, I disliked the lead character Ruth. Some of characters were vulgar .

Has Stern Men turned you off from other books in this genre?

If I was was not leading our book group this time, I would not have bothered to finish it. However the epilogue was the best part... the book was almost finished and Ruth finally showed some heart.!

What didn’t you like about Allyson Ryan’s performance?

Actually she had more of a NY accent than a Maine accent, for a New Englander this was disappointing.

Any additional comments?

not recommended.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

Elizabeth Gilbert did it again!

The ending had a nice twist, never saw it coming!

Just a side note- some people may not like the amount of curse words.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

Really sensational

I don't know how she does it- but Elizabeth Gilbert has once again written the most enthralling of original stories. This was absolutely wonderful. The history, the characters / everything. One of my favorites that will without a doubt, linger.

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story
  • Tara
  • florida
  • 08-02-16

I continue to reread....

Any additional comments?

I read this book years ago and I have read it at least 2 other times because it a fun, interesting summer read. I decided to pick up the audio version and enjoyed it that way as well. It took me a bit to get passed the narrator's accents but I got used to it.