Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Stern Men by Elizabeth Gilbert

An 18 year old girl, stuck on a remote Maine island, avoids her destiny

After boarding school, Ruth Thomas, 19 years old, returns to Fort Niles, the isolated Maine island of her birth, unsure of what she wants to do with her life. Fort Niles is also the summer preserve of the Ellis Family, aristocrats who used to run a granite quarry, a family that has a mysterious and powerful connection to Ruth. The men on the island are, for the most part, cantankerous hard drinking lobstermen. During the course of the novel, secrets are revealed and Ruth discovers her true calling.

First of all, I immensely enjoyed Stern Men. Spectacular prose, quirky characters, deeply weird developments – I didn’t want the book to end. Gilbert consistently maintains a comic vision of the world. We delve into the island’s people, whether misanthropic or loving. Ruth has to choose what side she is on, dead ended selfishness or loving human kindness. (One side makes more money.)  

But there is a flaw with the plotting. I’m not sure if there was a plot, or if there was, it never really came together underneath the colorful characters. As I neared the end of the book, I noticed there were only 15 pages left and the story was nowhere near wrapping up. In fact, the story hadn’t even really launched yet. The story is clearly Ruth’s, but she spends her time wandering on the beach, being a smart aleck, drinking beer and absorbing things. She could have carried more narrative water, I think.

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