Friday, September 28, 2012

Review: A Pocketful of Names by Joe Coomer

One of the most powerful, thought-provoking books I've read this year.  Our book club chose this one for its setting and to a person agreed that the setting was a large contributor to the depth and richness of the story.

Hannah is an artist who has come to live on Ten Acre No Nine Island which she inherited from her uncle Arno.  She hasn't been to the island in 8 years since she'd spent summers with her uncle.  Now that he's dead, she wants nothing more than to be left alone so she can paint and sculpt.  That's who she is--at least that's who she thinks she is. As the story opens, a scruffy old mutt who has obviously fallen into the water someplace offshore, manages to beach himself on her island.  When she discovers him, she cannot figure out what to do with him, reluctantly names him "Driftwood" and allows him into her life.

As the months progress, others arrive on her island and each time, Hannah must decide whether to allow them to stay, how to relate to them, what they ultimately will mean to them.  She continues to paint and to sculpt, but finds the constant stream of people in her life are gradually skewing her perception of solitude.  Was she lonely?  Or did she just want to be alone?
She'd read somewhere that there were three things worth doing in life: making something new, caring for something old, and finding something lost. Her art was new; the house was worthy of care. What had been lost? It was like asking what had been forgotten. You didn't know until you remembered it. She wouldn't know what was lost until she found it. (pg. 150)
The story of Hannah, her dog, her friends, the townspeople on the mainland, her half-sister,  a runaway teen fleeing an abusive father, and her uncle are all intertwined in a beautiful tale of life and loss and caring and sharing. Coomer gives us a wide panoply of characters who represent the whole spectrum of life in Maine.  There are warring lobstermen, hard working high school students, disabled veterans, demented elders, beached whales, tourists, and homeless relatives.  How and whether Hannah allows each of these into her life, into her heart,  is the story.  It's a glorious story, beautifully written, with simple words, complex thoughts, and all the beauty life on the rugged shores of Maine can provide.

One of my ten best of the year.

Author: Joe Coomer
Publisher-Format: Graywolf Press (2007), Paperback, 304 pages
Life, loss, growth
Setting: Isolated island in the Gulf of Maine
Genre: literary fiction
Source:  My own shelves

1 comment:

  1. I'm putting this one on my list. I used to think how grand it would be to just spend the summer alone on an island off of Maine. Now, how would I feel about people intruding on my solitude? Good question, good plot.


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