Island life

March/April 2021

“On Harbor’s Edge, Book One: 1912-1913”
by Kate Hotchkiss. Maine Authors Publishing and Cooperative, 2020. 287 pp. $18.95.

Review by Lisa Shields
For Points East

First in a planned series of novels, “On Harbor’s Edge: Book One: 1912-1913” takes us into the first few years of the marriage between Thaddeus Gale and Mildred May, a period in time that is sometimes sweet, but often rocky. Brought up on a fictional island in Maine, Mildred sets out with her new husband in a small boat on the cusp of a storm to integrate herself and absorb the conventions and practices of her husband’s tinier, more remote, Popplestone Isle.

The plot and characters are artfully developed as we get to know the tiny island community through its residents. When you live on Popplestone Isle, you have to rely on one another. When the herring are running, the fishermen cooperate in a way that’s mutually beneficial. Women support and lean on each other. There is one jarring anachronism, in which Mildred May teaches her husband to read using “Goodnight Moon” as a primer (published in 1947) that thankfully does not detract from the overall quality of the book.

Despite the strong sense of community on Popplestone Isle, there is an element of grittiness, as well. Child abuse, wife-beating, hunger, isolation, homophobia and even murder – the island’s remoteness does not spare it from these general social afflictions. The reactions of the islanders to the various events illustrate the customs of the time.

The author accurately reflects in her story both the good and bad aspects of small-island culture. With a compelling plot, believable characters, rich imagery, and beautiful illustrations, the novel draws a fine picture of island life in the early part of the 20th century.

It’s also a great yarn. Have you ever become so engrossed in a book that you turn off your phone so no one can bother you? For me, this was the case with “On Harbor’s Edge.” I sympathized with Mildred May to the point where I wished I could, at times, reach out and shake her. I so closely identified with the good aspects of the culture of the community that I felt at times as though the story was set in my own town. Sometimes I envied the simpler life that is described. Other times I was grateful that times and mores have changed. “On Harbor’s Edge” is a provocative novel, capable of transporting those who read it. I, for one, can’t wait to find out what Mildred May does next.

Islands play a huge part in Lisa Shields’s life. She has lived on North Haven for 50 years, before that summered on an island off North Haven, her mother was born in Newfoundland, and her father’s ancestors hailed from an island off Scotland.

She is currently a realtor on the Fox Islands, and a freelance editor.