Allagash author returns to fictional Mattagash, Maine, in new novel

By Aislinn Sarnacki, BDN Staff
Posted June 11, 2013, at 12:46 p.m.

“The One-Way Bridge,” by Cathie Pelletier, May 2013, Sourcebooks, 287 pages, hardcover, $24.99.

The rule is simple. If two drivers approach opposite ends of the one-way bridge in Mattagash, Maine, whoever touches their tires to the bridge first has the right-of-way. And in such a small town, everyone knows proper bridge etiquette.

Mattagash, a northern Maine town surrounded by timberland, is the fictional setting of “The One-Way Bridge,” the recently released novel by award-winning author Cathie Pelletier, who lives on her family homestead in Allagash.

Fourth in the Mattagash series, this present-day story takes place over the course of just a few days.

Working with a large cast of characters — from a retired mailman striving to rekindle his love life to a young man running from trouble — Pelletier builds a story destined to be passed on by Mattagash folk for generations to come.

“One thing I want to capture is how we really carry our ancestors’ dreams forward — we carry their genes, joys, hates, hurts, love,” said Pelletier during a recent phone interview from her home in Allagash. “When you live in this kind of town, you drive by the graves of your ancestors every day. Cities lose sight of things, lose sight of people. Little towns don’t.”

Pelletier writes about each of the characters’ lives with a mixture of humor and gravity.

“There’s a danger in it, but it’s my style of writing,” she continued. “It’s that Irish sensibility as a storyteller, taking after my mother’s side of the family … I grew up with very humorous people, and I’d like to think I’m one of them.”

“The underbelly of real humor should be sadness,” she continued. “Otherwise, it’s just a vaudeville slip on the banana peel.”

Quick-witted, Pelletier combines sarcasm with sentimentality, irony with tragedy, and silliness with practicality. Her bold writing style makes this novel — and her nine previous novels — entertaining, refreshing, but above all, true to the community in which she grew up.

Though the people and events of “The One-Way Bridge” are products of Pelletier’s active imagination, the town of Mattagash is based off the geography of Allagash, where Pelletier was born and raised. With 239 residents recorded in the 2010 census, Allagash is where Route 161 ends. It used to be home to not one but three one-way bridges, all of which were replaced by two-lane bridges after the 1991 ice jam.

“You can’t really pass through town, unless you’re driving a lumber truck or something. The road dead ends,” she said. “There’s a saying — don’t make anyone angry passing through town because you have to turn around and come back.”

Pelletier began the Mattagash series in 1986 with “The Funeral Makers,” a story set in 1959 that highlights the McKinnons, the first family of the small town. Over the years, she has invited readers back to Mattagash with “Once Upon a Time on the Banks” (1991) and “The Weight of Winter” (1993), winner of the New England Booksellers Award. Stepping away from small-town life, she has also authored several novels in the Bixley series, which takes place in the fictional town of Bixley, Maine, similar to the size of Bangor. Her Bixley novel “Running the Bulls” won the 2006 Paterson Prize for Fiction.

All of her novels feature new characters and circumstances so that each story stands on its own.

“I am that term that I don’t like — I’m an organic writer,” she said. “Kind of like writing by the seat of your pants.”

“There’s a saying that ‘writers should write about what they know,’ and that’s often not the case,” she said. “Often, we write about something that our characters want us to discover. They seem to be telling us — of course, it’s our own subconscious doing that.”

For example, in “The One-Way Bridge,” Pelletier spends several chapters writing from the perspective of Vietnam War veteran Harry Plunkett, a man plagued by vivid dreams of wartime experiences and the death of his wife.

“I think he’s the character I have learned the most from — and writing should be that for writers,” she said. “He was a very difficult character for me.”

Determined to understand Plunkett, she spent months researching the war and Vietnam, down to the country’s native birds.

“We’re in charge of our characters and have to take responsibility,” she said. “But they often do things I wish they wouldn’t. They say things that make me cringe, but you know, you have to be true to them.”

Perhaps more interesting than the individual desires and troubles of the various Mattagash residents are the interactions between them — whether it’s a waitress talking with an adoring customer, a sister confiding in a sister about her failing marriage, or an abused dog reaching out to a passerby. And all of these individual stories come to a head at the town’s one-way bridge.

“There’s always a certain place in the novel when I suddenly start getting where it is that it’s going to tie up — I start to connect the themes in my head — and thank god, because it’s scary up until then,” said Pelletier, who is already hard at work on her next Maine-based books — her first chapter book for middle graders, inspired by the Allagash alien abductions of 1976, and her eleventh novel, the next installation of her Bixley series.

She will also be busy spreading the word about “The One-Way Bridge” at events throughout the state this summer, including a book signing and reading at 7 p.m. on June 26 at BookMarc’s in Bangor. For information, including a list of book tour events, visit cathiepelletier.com.

“Maine – Beyond the Usual: A Travel Guide,” by Marisue Pickering and John W. Pickering, 2013, Maine Author’s Publishing, 102 pages with color photographs, paperback, $22.95.

Perhaps you’ve stood at the booted feet of Bangor’s Paul Bunyan statue and climbed to the top of the Portland Observatory, roamed the echoing passages of Fort Knox and walked out to Owls Head Lighthouse. No matter how well-versed you are in Maine’s many attractions and landmarks, you’ll find somewhere new to visit in the recently published “Maine – Beyond the Usual: A Travel Guide” by Marisue Pickering and John W. Pickering.

This compilation of lesser-known Maine places and their accompanying stories is for vacationers and Mainers alike. From landscaped gardens to small museums to forgotten historic landmarks, there is something for anyone looking to explore the state.

The Pickerings began travel writing a number of years ago. John Pickering is a retired educator who taught at both the elementary and university levels, and Marisue Pickering is a University of Maine professor emerita.

“The Great Gold Swindle of Lubec, Maine,” edited by Ronald Pesha, April 2013, The History Press, 128 pages, paperback, $19.99.

Have you ever heard about the stranger who traveled to Lubec, Maine to extract gold from the ocean? It’s a true story. In 1897, Rev. Prescott Jernegan made such a claim, then fooled onlookers with gold he hid beneath a wharf during the night. He built a factory, won over investors, and promptly disappeared.

With resources from the Lubec Historical Society, the incredible story has been pulled together by Ronald Pesha in “The Great Gold Swindle of Lubec, Maine,” a book released to stores in April. The book includes articles from the Lubec Herald, excerpts from the Boston Herald, black-and-white photographs, and write-ups by Pesha that help readers put the events into context.

Pesha retired to Lubec with his wife in 1988 after a successful career in broadcasting and teaching. He served as president of the Lubec Historical Society from 2001 to 2012 and is the author of the 2009 book “Remembering Lubec: Stories from the Easternmost Point.”

“Haunted Fort: The Spooky Side of Maine’s Fort Knox,” by Liza Gardner Walsh, June 2013, Down East Books, 100 pages, hardcover, $15.99.

When the prime time TV show “Ghost Hunters” traveled to Maine in February 2011 to spend six days in Fort Knox to determine whether the historic site was haunted, they weren’t disappointed.

“They definitely believe it’s haunted,” said Leon Seymour, executive director of the Friends of Fort Knox, in an April 2011 BDN story published after the show first aired on the SyFy Channel.

But why? No battle was ever fought at the famous fort, built in the mid 1800s to defend the Penobscot River and Bangor, a major source of shipbuilding lumber. So whose ghosts did the 19-person “Ghost Hunters” crew encounter?

The answer may be found in recently published book “Haunted Fort: The Spooky Side of Maine’s Fort Knox,” by Camden resident Liza Gardner Walsh, who spent several night locked in the fort with the East Coast Ghost Trackers in an effort to learn more about the supernatural. In the book, Gardner shares the history of the region, going back to before the fort was built, as well as interviews with fort staff, who provide eyewitness accounts of ghost sightings.

“Brush with Death: A Gray Whale Inn Mystery,” by Karen MacInerney, May 2013, Midnight Ink, 232 pages, paperback, $14.99.

Who knew the art community could be so exciting and, well, deadly? In “Brush with Death,” Karen MacInerney blends galleries and art criticism with intrigue and murder. The fifth mystery in the Gray Whale Inn series, the novel returns readers to the unpredictable life of Natalie Barnes, resident of Maine’s Cranberry Island, where trendy artists are setting up shop and the future looks bright until a suspicious death casts a shadow over the community. Derailed from her anticipated holiday of relaxation, Barnes hunts for answers at the risk of catching the attention of a killer.

Although MacInerney lives in Texas with her husband and two children, she was born and raised in the northeast, and she visits Maine as much as possible. In addition to the Gray Whale Inn mysteries, she is the author of the Tales of an Urban Werewolf series. For information, visit karenmacinerney.com.

“A Skeptic’s Luck,” by A.D. Morel, 2013, Maine Author’s Publishing, 289 pages, paperback, $16.95.

In the recently published novel “A Skeptic’s Luck,” Maine botanist Maxine Rholf is desperately trying to keep it together years after her husband, Lewis, went missing during 9/11. With a 19-year-old son living at home, her 23-year-old daughter planning her wedding, money problems and her graduate work at risk, Maxine is struggling, to say the least. But everyday issues become trivial when a man resembling Lewis is seen at an airport and Maxine must ask the question — could her husband be alive?

The novel’s author, A.D. Morel blogs about creative writing at writermanna.com. She was inspired to write “A Skeptic’s Luck” after reading an article about real people who used 9/11 as an excuse to leave their families. The first in a trilogy, the novel is currently available at several Maine stores, including Betsy’s Sunflower in Brooklin, BookStacks in Bucksport, Blue Hill Books in Blue Hill and Sleighbell Shoppe in Blue Hill. Or order the book online at www.maineauthorspublishing.com.

“New England Notebook: One Reporter, Six States, Uncommon Stories,” by Ted Reinstein, May 2013, Globe Pequot, 224 pages, hardcover, $24.95.

The title pretty much says it all. The recently released “New England Notebook: One Reporter, Six States, Uncommon Stories,” written by Ted Reinstein, reporter for the Boston TV nightly news magazine Chronicle, shares stories he has gathered as a reporter traveling throughout New England’s six states. While the collection is based on a region, it is the people living in that region that make the stories inspiring, entertaining, heartbreaking or as the title states, “uncommon.”

“In a way, New Englanders mirror their region’s fabled weather: complex, varied, tough to predict, frequently changing, full of extremes,” he writes in the book. “That same endless change and variety about life in New England is what’s impressed me most in my travels.”

The book includes the Maine stories “Hands Down, Down East” based in Pemaquid Point, “Bigfoot, Small Museum” based in Portland, and “A ‘Chowda’ to Savor” based in Brunswick.

For information, visit tedreinstein.com.

http://bangordailynews.com/2013/06/11/living/book-reviews/allagash-author-returns-to-fictional-mattagash-maine-in-new-novel/ printed on April 18, 2014