Guest contributor: Bill Lundgren
categories: Cocktail Hour / Reading Under the Influence
Comments Off on Lundgren’s Lounge: “Closer All the Time,” by Jim Nichols
Any discussion of candidates for the title ‘Fiction Laureate of Maine’ will quickly conjure names of the usual subjects: Stephen King, Elizabeth Strout, Carolyn Chute and Rick Russo spring to mind and all of them have carved out a unique niche in the Maine literary landscape. Bur for my money, when it comes to capturing the ethos of the people and culture of the Pine Tree State, perhaps no one does it better than Jim Nichols.
Nichols’ latest novel, Closer All the Time (Islandport Press), is a lovingly rendered series of connected vignettes centering on the fictional coastal Maine community of Baxter. And although the author’s insights clearly mark him as a member of the clan, he does not shy away from depicting the sometimes dark underside of small-town life in Maine: the petty feuds that endure for generations, the xenophobia masquerading as rugged individualism and the tensions between “natives’ and newly arrived people with lots of money and little sense of decorum regarding the way that things have always been done.
One of the early stories, all of which are named after the character at the heart of the action, is “Early,” about a recent widower struggling to extricate himself from the emotional void left behind after his beloved Evangeline passes away. Early (so named for his propensity to be the first one out on the flats each morning), rouses himself to get up and explore some off-limits clamming grounds, legality be damned. Running into a younger acquaintance, the two set to work rhythmically raking the flats and it is here, in his description of the work, that Nichols’ writing prowess is on full display. I have never raked a clam flat in my life, yet there is an undeniable verisimilitude to Nichols’ description that will put any reader right beside the two men, united in their work and the adrenaline rush of doing something outside the bounds of the law. Of course things do not go as planned, as such escapades often do not: chased by the clam cops, Early and his young friend are forced to jettison their catch and barely escape being caught. But in the end, bereft of clams, it is clear that Early has finally begun to begun to lift himself out of the grief and depression that had been threatening to swallow his life..
The rest of the stories follow a chronological progression, focusing upon the youth of the village, then the tender infatuations of adolescence and the heartbreak of the loves and challenges of grown-up life. The soul of this indelible collection is Baxter, which could be almost any small community, anywhere, a place where the inhabitants scrape and struggle and try to understand why. Nichols makes it clear that despite the travails and the confusion, there is always a tendril of hope that most often connects back to the community.
There will be a reading and book signing to mark the release of Closer All the Time at Bayside Bowl, 58 Alder St. in Portland, Maine, this upcoming Tuesday, March 10th from 5 till 7. If you’re anywhere near, please come join us for a celebration of the author’s work and the rich literary scene here in Maine.
[Bill Lundgren is a writer and blogger, also a bookseller at Longfellow Books in Portland, Maine (“A Fiercely Independent Community Bookstore”). He keeps a bird named Ruby, and teaches at Southern Maine Community College.]