The Country of the Pointed Firs by Sarah Orne Jewett


Recommended by Corinne.  This book was written in 1896 and is more accurately viewed as a series of sketches than a novel.  It describes an idyllic life on the coast of Maine among the fishermen and farmers inland, and the tone reminds me very much of the Irish writer John McGahern's By the Lake (reviewed here).  The language is wonderfully calming and the connections between people are always happy ones. 

The description of the importance of a family reunion is instructive:

It is very rare in country life, where high days and holidays are few, that any occasion of general interest proves to be less than great.  Such is the hidden fire of enthusiasm in the New England nature that, once given an outlet, it shines forth with almost volcanic light and heat.  In quiet neighborhoods such inward force does not waste itself upon those petty excitements of every day that belong to cities, but when, at long intervals, the altars to patriotism, to friendship, to the ties of kindred, are reared in our familiar fields, then the fires glow, the flames come up as if from the inexhaustible burning heart of the earth; the primal fires break through the granite dust in which our souls are set.

The village of Dunnet Landing is described by a summer visitor who begins to see herself and be accepted as a member of the village.  She boards with a widow (Mrs. Todd) who gathers herbs and makes potions.  The unnamed summer visitor spends part of her day writing in the now-vacant schoolhouse.  The highlights of her summer include hearing the stories of the old seafarer, Captain Littlepage, the visit of the two women to the island where Mrs. Todd's mother lives, getting to know another visitor to the boarding house, Mrs. Fosdick, a family reunion of Mrs. Todd's family, and becoming friendly with an old widower who hasn't recovered from his wife's death 8 years before.

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