Friday, April 1, 2016

Review: Maine's White Pine Cone Conspiracy

A Novella by
Sadie and Sophie Cuffe

In Maine in the 1920s, Johnowen Bradford and Guthrie Allen befriend each other during a brawl outside Duffy's speakeasy. Gurthrie persuades Johnowen to visit the Allen coastal farm with an eye to purchase one part of it. But conflicts arise. Guthrie's auburn-haired sister, Carrie, opposes any idea of selling the family property. The farm itself is isolated, run down since the father and one brother died in the flu epidemic of 1918. The mother, devastated by these losses, lives in a self-imposed state as a near-invalid. Carrie provides the family's only stability, contrasting with Guthrie's winsome irresponsibility.

Johnowen has his own baggage: a spiritual numbness from his service in WW I, in which he lost his two closest friends. The thought of owning a quiet, isolated place appeals to him. The brother-sister conflict argues against it but, when Carrie takes him on a walking tour, the beauty of the place persuades him to stay for a longer look. Besides, he is increasingly attracted to the combative Carrie.
There is a greater conflict, however, in that the irrepressible Guthrie is involved over his head in something untoward about the use of a boat. Johnowen inevitably becomes entangled in that mystery, and Carrie becomes entangled in conflicts arising from her growing appreciation of Johnowen, the question of whether his money comes from something illegal, and her love of the family property—all of it, not just the part Johnowen won't buy.

The Cuffe sisters develop these homespun materials through increasing tensions to a fitting climax and resolution. They also write beautifully, creating a manuscript marked by sentences of sudden vividness: "The fog snaked through the marsh and wrapped its chilly tendrils around their feet." The result is a novella constantly pleasing with its lovable characters and quiet beauty of presentation.

Review by Donn Taylor, author of Lightning on a Quiet Night, The Lazarus File, etc.

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