It has been said that people can make the place, or the place can make the person. The book, The Eastern: The Early Years captures the impact that place and person have on each other. The storied chapters exquisitely follow the path of a town’s development and its people living along the Eastern River in Pittstown, Maine, back in the 1800’s.
Author Deborah Gould’s second novel looks to be the beginning of more stories to come as this is book one of a planned two-volume work. This is her first foray into historical fiction and she gains a very firm foothold on this tricky genre of blending fact with fiction. The end result is a truly enjoyable read as she treats the people with respect and the place with a skilled an imaginative eye for detail, while gently placing the reader within the story.
Now living in Brunswick, Maine, the author lived at one time in one of the original farmhouses in the Pittston area. It was while living there that she found records of the previous owner, Joel Thompson, who built the home in 1811. From there her fascination and desire to learn more led her to unearth a treasure trove of documents and information about the other families living in the area. It is from this research Gould was able to set down the historical markers and then begin the task to developing and weaving magic into a story by breathing life again into these very real people.
And magic it is. Five families living along the Eastern River ____Thompson, Blodgett, Call, Stilphen and Crocker- are determined to make a life for themselves as well as build a community together. Out of the land they carve we are given glimpses of the hardships endured, the tragedies experienced, and the joy of watching children and the world around them grow and develop. In those days death came quickly and unexpectedly, but it was soon eclipsed by another life coming into the world. The reader follows along as the characters learn to figure things out and do what they do best which in those days was to farm the land. Agriculture is what they knew, and the river was like a thread weaving through the fabric that comes out of the ground, and also disappears into it with life and death.
The chapters tend to focus on a specific family or family member living life and dealing with all the uncertainties that come along, and these moments come quick and deliberate, just as life does. The character development is superb; as the family grows so too does the essence of each family member. At the beginning of each chapter are either quotes from the characters or excerpts from published material giving a look into the subject at hand or what is happening in the world, whether it be a recipe, a new invention or even the death of a president.
This is historical fiction that expertly captures both purpose and place. The author aptly places the reader within the story in a very deliberate and effective way. Whether it is following behind a child on a rabbit hunt, or sitting next to a husband devastated by the unexpected loss of his wife; these feelings of joy and devastation are intrinsically felt by the reader because they are expertly crafted to put the reader right there. We follow the child and we console the father. Filled with New England values of community and helping thy neighbor, The Eastern: The Early Years is a book that was a pleasure to read.
And it was just recently announced that the book has garnered a nomination for the Maine Literary Award in Fiction. In 2014 a chapter of the book won the prize for Short Fiction. “Maine has a rich and varied literary community—so many talented writers live and work here! The Maine Literary Award nomination is, in a sense, recognition of my place within that community; it’s an honor to be included,” Gould said.
The author is currently at work on the second volume titled, The Eastern: Later On that will continue the story of the families shortly after the Civil War and into the early 1900’s. Gould says, “I’m not sure where I’m headed after this is finished. I’ve got a couple of years to figure that out.
But writers are always writing—we’re always fiddling around with ideas and storylines, constantly filtering through possibilities—so I’ve no doubt that something will pop up!”
Maine Authors Publishing, 2015 Softcover, $17.95