Monday, April 17, 2006

The Lobster Chronicles, by Linda Greenlaw

Linda Greenlaw became known to many of us by her role in Sebastian Junger's novel, and subsequent blockbuster movie, The Perfect Storm. Played by Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, in the movie, the tough female captain of the sister sword fishing ship to the ship that was lost, Linda Greenlaw knows her ocean. She even wrote her own book about the sword fishing life, entitled, The Hungry Ocean, where she showed the world that she thoroughly earned the title of sword fishing captain - woman or not. In The Lobster Chronicles, Linda Greenlaw takes her readers back home to Maine, where her parents live, where she can connect with her roots. As if sword fishing weren't enough, she decides to become a lobster fisherman on the tiny Isle au Haut, an island off the Maine coast with a population of about 70 people, 30 of whom, as the book tells us, are her relatives.

The book begins with an explanation of lobsters and an assurance that all the names of the characters in the book are, in untraditional format, entirely accurate. We are taken on a quick tour of Isle au Haut where we see that the island is a real, working town, not just a tourist spot, like many of the other islands in Maine. Tourists may visit Isle au Haut in the summertime, but Ms. Greenlaw explains that "We do not have a Kmart, or any other mart. We have no movie theater, roller rink, arcade, or bowling alley. Residents can't get manicured, pedicured, dry-cleaned, massaged, hot tubbed, facial-ed, permed, tinted, foiled, or indoor tanned. We have neither fine dining nor fast food. There is no Dairy Queen, Jiffy Lube, newspaper stand, or Starbucks. There is no bank, not even an ATM. No cable TV, golf course, movie theater, gym, museum, art gallery... well, you get the picture." And thus begins a heartwarming tale of life on the island.

Ms. Greenlaw goes into great educational depth about all that lobster fishing entails, including the proper reference to lobster fishing that is, in fact, fishing, and that the hearty folks who brave the cold ocean to acquire the delectable arthropods, are known as fishermen, not lobstermen. Yet, the book is all that and more. It is about the author's home life, having moved back in with her mother and father after many years. It is about the funny doings and sayings of her parents, her neighbors, and the other townspeople. It is about political issues that are found in towns such as this, on outlying islands in Maine. It is about how and when and why anyone would go to the mainland. And mostly, it is about Linda Greenlaw - her love for Maine, for the ocean, for lobster fishing, for hard work, and for the people she loves.

Throughout the book, the author sprinkles in, at perfect intervals, her dry humor, that is so typical of native Mainers. One of the many instances is a chapter in which her aunt is trying to set up Ms. Greenlaw on a date. She explains that her aunt claims that she has a friend the author must meet. Once it has been established that the friend is a man who has a charter fishing business, the author launches into a thought process that will be hilarious to all single women everywhere: "Wow, I thought. A Charter Boy from the Vineyard - I'm sure he would be impressed. He's probably an avid catch-and-releaser. Maybe he's even a member of Greenpeace. Ours would be a match made in heaven. Cupid had outdone herself this time." And then she goes on to explain that she answered her aunt in a kind, mannerly way, knowing the man in question would most likely stay on his island, while she stayed happily on hers.

The book ends much the way it begins - with life continuing and promising to continue on the island, as it always has. Through the book, though the author doesn't change her lifestyle, per se, she learns a lot about herself in ways she never imagined. She becomes closer to her parents and a bit more proud of her life just as it is. Linda Greenlaw is a master story teller and anyone who is remotely interested in Maine, islands, the ocean, or just small town people, will love this book.

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