Ragbagger Press: 11/25/2014
eBook, 384 pages
Dory Delano, Charlotte Harris, and Turner Graham have been drifting through life since their days as roommates at Smith College, ten years ago. Dory is resisting taking the reins of her family's legacy and fortune even as she relishes the fabulous lifestyle it affords her in the fashionable seaside resort of Martha's Vineyard. She invites her old friends to join her for a summer on the Vineyard in hopes of rediscovering the innocence of old days and healing new wounds. But hidden in their midst and unknown to all but a few, a reclusive--some say dangerous--fisherman wanders alone, fueling wild speculation about his purpose and his past. None of these women can imagine the events their encounter with the fisherman will set in motion, the shadow he will cast over their destinies, or the transformation that awaits the world they know.
The Vineyard by Michael Hurley is a highly recommended novel about friendship and overcoming difficult circumstances.
Three friends in their early 30's gather at Martha's Vineyard for a summer of reconnections but it ultimately becomes a time of healing and reawakening - with some added mysticism and allegorical tie-ins. Dory, Charlotte, and Turner all reunite on Dory's family residents on Martha's Vineyard. For Dory it is a time to keep trying to escape the expectations placed upon her based on her heritage and wealth. Charlotte has accepted her invitation because she is planning to commit suicide as soon as she arrives. Turner is simply at loose ends in her life and has no direction, beyond continuing her blog.
All three women have encounters with the fisherman. "His name was Enoch, which didn’t much matter, because almost no one knew his name or referred to him as anything other than “the fisherman.” In the turn of events, he changes the lives of all three women.
The Vineyard opens with Charlotte planning to wade out into the ocean with her daughter Meredith's ashes immediately after she arrives. "Only the sea was far and wide enough to cover the grief of losing a daughter, a marriage, and a life that once had seemed to rise continually skyward, like a zephyr." She is still mourning the loss of her daughter and lamenting the refusal of the church to bury Meredith because she died unbaptized. Charlotte has the numbers 1183-2 tattooed on her left forearm as a self-imposed badge of shame. "They comprised the paragraph and section number of a single line of the Code of Canon Laws of the Catholic Church: The local ordinary can permit children whom the parents intended to baptize but who died before baptism to be given ecclesiastical funerals." She buys shrimp from the fisherman, and he later touches her life in an unexpected way.
Dory is a larger than life character who does nothing in half measures. It was all or nothing at all—with everything. The expectations her family's name seem to require of her has placed a restraint on her life from which that she wants to rebel. Her encounter with the fisherman is miraculous and alters her life.
Turner is a skeptic and negative about any help from a fisherman. She does know a good story hook when she sees one, however, so she blogs about the miraculous doings of the fisherman, freely making her posts allegorical as well as exaggerated. Her blog posts go viral and her hit numbers are unprecedented. Suddenly people all over want to know more. "The world was eager and the market was ripe for a new theology of redemption, and Turner’s stories about a strange fisherman on the Vineyard conveniently filled that void." People are all clamoring for a copy of what they think is Turner's soon to be published The Book of Enoch.
After enjoying Hurley's The Prodigal last year, I was pleased to read The Vineyard. The writing is still excellent and the narrative encompasses many of the same features: personal challenges, Catholicism, allegorical tie-ins, and sailing. This time there is a whole lot of sex, however, and not of the romantic variety or even with any care (emotional or practical). It's either a sexual predator, someone using their sexuality for their own purposes, or raw lust. So, although the quality of the writing is just as good and descriptive, the actual story lost some of the momentum for me because the female characters just seemed off and rather mindless during those scenes. I enjoyed the novel enough to keep reading, though the ending, while it ties up all the storylines, was a bit too pat and sort of fizzled out for me.
Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of the author for review purposes.