I really liked this new book (just out in July 2022), although it started slow and took a long time ramping up. It is unique, layered, and thick at 592 pages. A Christian Science Monitor review called it sublime, exquisitely written and engrossing. The NYTimes called it enthralling and masterful.
It is about two women in their eighties who have been friends and neighbors their whole lives. They are Quakers from Philadelphia who spend summers on a lovely bit of oceanside land in Maine. They both want to save the land from development after they pass on, but they must surmount much to make that possible. And anyway, to whom does any land actually belong?
Agnes never married and focused on her career, while people-pleasing Polly (yes Polly!) did marry and was the brunt of the patriarchy from both her husband (shades of Middlemarch here) and her patronizingly greedy sons. There is also a third character, a younger one named Maud, who is trying to balance both motherhood and career on her own.
The writing was excellent if ornate. “The sky was so blue it looked chewy.” “Many women forwent the possibility of advancement by being diligent rather than bold.” We get a good view as well into what it is like to be in your eighties. “But there was a last time. An unforeseen and uncommemorated last time. I don’t remember it. That, more than anything, describes aging to me – the letting go of one activity after the next, with no fanfare. Just realizing later that the last time has come and gone.”
The second half of this novel is way better than the first half. It shifts halfway through to a flashback, and that is when the book picks up steam. After that, it ties together in an unlikely twist– a needle in a haystack kind of thing you’ll have to suspend your disbelief to swallow. In the end they could say that they “had loved someone,” which points to a life well lived.
I liked the threads here of compassion, of love, of respect for the land, of feminism, fighting back against ageism, animal rights, tension between locals and people from away, and a questionable prison system. You may enjoy those threads too if you stick with this languorously embroidered prose. Maybe already loving Maine helps as well. I give it four stars.