Monday, April 16, 2012

Review: Ernie's Ark by Monica Wood

Author: Monica Wood
Publisher-Format: Chronicle Books, kindle edition ebook
Year of publication: 2002
Subject: effects of unemployment and mill shut down
Setting: small town in Maine
Genre: short stories
Source: Amazon kindle

One of my reading goals for 2012 is to read more Maine authors.  Monica Wood is one of our best.  In this poignant collection of stories, reminiscent of Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout, Wood explores the devastating impact of a long-term union strike against a paper mill in fictional Abbot Falls Maine.  Residents of this town, who have depended on the mill and its earnings for generations are suddenly faced with making decisions they have never considered before.  By using several different characters, we are able to see the consequences of this year long drag on the local economy, on individual lives, and on the extended community.  So much more insightful than any reality TV you'll ever see.

Central to the book is Ernie Whitten, a pipefitter at the mill who is only 3 months short of retirement when the strike begins.  He now faces not only the loss of income, and the loss of his pension, but the loss of his wife who is in the terminal stages of cancer.  Their only son lives in California, and is rarely in touch.  To satisfy a seemingly random suggestion from his wife, Ernie begins to build an ark in the side yard.  Throughout the book, the image of the ark pulls other characters into the saga.  If God could work a miracle once, why not again?  Perhaps if he could just get it finished and get his wife on the ark, she wouldn't leave him.

Various members of another family, the Little's, are woven in as ex-spouses, town officials and strikebreakers.  The CEO and owner of the mill makes an appearance early on as he tries to deal with his own problems---not just striking mill workers, but a distant and headstrong adult daughter whose own life is falling apart.

The shining stars are middle-schooler Francine and her step-mother Cindy Love (ex wife of a Little) and owner of Showers of Flowers.  Francine is determined that her father and Cindy will hold their marriage together and will go so far as to hide her father's infidelities to avoid losing another mother (her birth mother dumped the kids and went off to London).  Her brother Kevin, surly, hurting high-schooler hates everyone, everything, and only wants to become another Thoreau living in the woods.  Cindy wisely plays referee between father and son, and gives Francine the attention and mothering she's never enjoyed before.

These nine stories are gems.  The writing is as snappy as the breeze on a crystal clear Maine lake in the spring.  I'm not sure how I ever missed this one.  It's a sparkling diamond, and I'm really glad that Amazon has brought it back digitally.  Grab it anyway you can and rejoice that there are still writers who can bring this much joy out of this kind of sadness.

1 comment:

  1. well, I was a wee bit afraid it might be all too grim..until you started going on about it being "as snappy as the breeze on a crystal clear Maine lake in the spring". we will see...we will see... ;-)


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