Book reviews: ‘The Iliad: A Dramatization,’ ‘Sons and Daughters of the Ocean’ and ‘Great Blue: Odyssey of a Heron’
THE ILIAD: A DRAMATIZATION, adapted by H.R. Coursen; Just Write Books, Topsham, 2011; 90 pages, trade paperback, $14.95.
Herb Coursen of Brunswick has to be one of the most prolific competent writers now at work in the state of Maine. He churns out novels, stories and poems at least as relentlessly as Stephen King, and mixed in there are his adaptations of ancient Greek and Roman stories and plays. The latest, “The Iliad: A Dramatization,” compresses the story of the ancient Greeks’ 10-year siege of the city of Troy into a dialogue modeled on ancient Greek dramatic form and given in contemporary English poetic idiom.
If you like these stories and poetry, you really can’t go wrong here. Achilles’ feud with Agamemnon over a girl captive, his subsequent pout in the ships leaving the Greeks to falter before the Trojan defenses, the death of his friend Patroclus, the slaying of Hector in revenge, make up one of the most compelling ur-war stories of all time, and Coursen’s bright, sharp language re-creates it coolly, adding dramatic touches of his own. Coursen extends the story beyond Homer’s “Iliad,” which ends with the funeral of Hector, to the next phase which involves the infiltration and sack of Troy and the death of Achilles.
This book could make a nice introduction for high school students to the forms of Greek drama and the plot elements of “The Iliad,” as well as a fresh way to reread the tale, which never gets old. It’s available from Just Write Books at www.jstwrite.com.
SONS AND DAUGHTERS OF THE OCEAN, by Kevin C. Mills; Maine Authors Publishing, Rockland, 2010; 390 pages, trade paperback, $21.95.
Kevin Mills’ first novel wends its way among the lives of residents of Brooks Harbor, Maine (a fictional town based, the author tells us elsewhere, on Brooksville) who in the 19th century are bound up tightly with the sea. In chapters of varying narrative voices, we hear stories of sea and home-port incident and tragedy and of three characters — Albert Miller, Sarah Dyer and Sammy Jones — who relate their own stories, some of which are based on the lives of Mills’ real Down East ancestors.
Great efforts are made here to bring the world of 19th century seagoing Maine to life. Sammy’s voice opens one chapter: “Albert, Austin and I meet up at the local tavern, called the Sail Loft. It is a short walk from the docks or a short stagger from the tavern, dependin’ on which way you’re headin’. The sailors are frequent visitors here. Merchants comin’ and goin’ or crews and captains stoppin’ in for a round or two. … It is a rough and tumble kinda place. The rum and whiskey is always flowin’. The tales of the sea are abundant and the language and the characters are often as salty as the sea on which they make a keep.” This in a way reflects the vision of the book itself, though for the most part the prose is more family-friendly than the sailor-speak Sammy alludes to here. No doubt with historical accuracy: “Sons and Daughters of the Sea” draws on Mills’ extensive knowledge of his own family’s maritime past and uses sources such as George Savary Wasson’s “Sailing Days on the Penobscot.”
Kevin Mills of Lewiston is a sportswriter for the Sun Journal and has won press association and other accolades for his writing. He will be signing books 2-6 p.m. Friday, Aug. 5, at the Maine Lobster Festival in Rockland, and making appearances at the Kittery Historical and Naval Society, Lion’s Club Building, on July 12, and at the Thomaston Historical Society on Oct.11. More information is available at www.kevincmills.com.
GREAT BLUE: ODYSSEY OF A HERON, by Marnie Reed Crowell; Threehalf Press, Sunset, Maine, 2011; 152 pages, trade paperback, $22.95; “A Sky of Birds: Images from Downeast Audubon,” by Marnie Reed Crowell; photos by Ann Flewelling and others; Threehalf Press, Sunset, Maine, 2011; 124 pages, paperback, $22.95.
“Great Blue,” a reissue of the 1980 Time Books volume by Marnie Reed Crowell, tells the fictionalized story of the migration of the great blue herons we see slowly stroking across our skies here in Maine during the summer. The narrative, shifting points of view between the bird, human observers and others, traces and describes the land and seascapes, dangers, foods and flights from Maine south to Bermuda and finally Trinidad, then back north by way of the Caribbean to Florida, ultimately completing the circle back in summertime Maine.
The story is packed with well-researched factual details, and is framed in a simple diction any bright 12-year-old or up can follow. There’s a nice map showing the routes, some useful appendices, including a list of fauna species mentioned from place to place and an annotated list of sources for more information, plus a sheaf of nice color photos at the end.
Crowell, a natural history writer who has worked extensively with Down East conservation organizations, has also brought out this summer “A Sky of Birds,” which offers a mix of her poems together with color photos by a variety of naturalists working in the vicinity of Mount Desert Island. In what is becoming a sort of genre of its own recently — thinking of Kathleen Ellis’s “Narrow River to the North” and in a similar vein Robert M. Chute’s “Wildness within Walking Distance” — “A Sky of Birds” presents a collection of poetic ditties, such as “Bobolinks,” “Junco Zen,” “Dawn Eagle,” “Wrensong” and “Bird Whisper,” accompanied by one or more photos illustrating the author’s love of the place and its denizens. It is a pretty relaxing little book dedicated to members of Downeast Audubon, with pictures so crisp it could even offer some help with avian identifications.
Both books are available through www.threehalfpress.net.