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.More
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
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)
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