In the small town of Maine, things are more sinister than they appear


It might seem easy to assume that “The Midcoast” is a criminal procedural, and there are certainly elements of the genre. But White is too interested in character development for the novel to get bogged down in technicalities. Each time the book veers in this direction, we are drawn back to the mysteries of people and places. By making his narrator a writer, White is able to explore the mechanisms of obsession. His narrative demonstrates a need to know the unknowable, to place the chaos of disintegration and violence into some sort of order.

Andrew has something in common with Nick Carraway and Frank Bascombe – affable storytellers and “Everyman”. And like a rogue Jay Gatsby, Ed Thatch is driven to his life of crime (we’re told this again and again) by his devotion to Steph, to give her whatever she wants. There is no suggestion, however, that Andrew wishes be Ed, the same way Carraway aspires to be Gatsby. And, unlike Bascombe, Andrew doesn’t find himself in the middle of a dreamy midlife crisis, searching for answers. Rather, his motive for telling this story and the source of his fascination are somewhat vague. The closest to a reason comes late in the novel, when Andrew expresses his lifelong desire to be close to tragedy. “When we tell the past,” he says, “it helps put us as close to the center of the action as possible. But the problem is this: the vast majority of humans, or maybe just affluent Americans, never get that close to the center of anything. »

As for the reasons, that’s fair enough. But sometimes there seems to be a deeper motivation – a sense of wistful loss, that the town Andrew thought he knew has been irrevocably changed by the actions of one family, and that the story of that change is worth telling. be told. In a memorable passage, Andrew interviews a key witness to the drama Thatch who explains the stages of a New England coastal town’s identity crisis. Initially, the inhabitants are looking for “authenticity”. Then they want authenticity and some good cafes and restaurants. Then they want all of that plus a T-shirt and souvenir shop. This continues until the city has “made enough concessions, in the name of convenience and an imaginary version of the city that only exists in brochures”, to “exchange ‘authenticity’ for this which looks like an airbrushed portrait of herself”.

The strength of White’s novel lies in how this loss of authenticity is reflected in the transformation of the Thatches from simple blue-collar workers into polished small-town bigwigs. Brimming with close observation, not just of landscape, but of dialect and class distinctions and all of the vital tiny peculiarities that make a place a reality in fiction, “The Midcoast” is a captivating look at the small town in Maine and the thwarted dreams of a family trying to transcend it.

Lee Cole is the author of “Groundskeeping”.

THE MIDDLE COAST, by Adam White | 336p. | Hogarth | $27


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