Fine writing stands on its own anywhere, but it’s a particular pleasure to read personal stories rooted deep in your own soil. Author and anthologist Wesley McNair has put together 24 essays and excerpts from Maine writers, past and present. It’s my pleasure to recommend Place Called Maine: 24 Writers on the Maine Experience to any reader interested in writing with a strong sense of place.
This book contains many pieces that I already know and love, among them the opening pages of We Took To the Woods by Louise Dickinson Rich and A Year In The Maine Woods by Bernd Heinrich; these two books, memoirs of living adventurously just a few hills over from my home, have filled me many times over with laughter and peace.
There are essays from writers whose other work I’ve read with joy: Richard Ford on being a newcomer to Maine; Franklin Burroughs on moose hunting; Bill Roorbach with an unforgettable piece about men who dig worms for a living; Richard Russo’s moody thoughts on autumn; as well as essays from Carolyn Chute, Gerry Boyle, Rachel Carson, and McNair himself.
Each of the 24 essays captures some essential aspect of being a writer in the state of Maine. The sea, the mountains, the lakes and rivers, the demanding weather, the independent and self-sufficient people – these are the foundations on which so much fine writing writing is anchored. I was deeply moved by these stories; perhaps because it’s my foundation too, but also because of the assurance and grace of the writing.
Two essays that were new to me will stay in my mind a long, long time. Robert Kimber, whose books on rural life are great favorites of mine, gives us a wistful memoir about his father’s sports camp in the Maine wilderness; this award-winning story (Missouri Review’s 2007 Jeffrey E.Smith Editor’s Award) is saturated with the lessons of a time long gone. And Monica Wood’s poignant story from her childhood a few streets away from my own is so vivid that I could taste the popsicles and feel the wooden porch steps beneath my bare feet. Wood writes, “Willa Cather famously observed that a writer acquires most of her material before the age of fifteen, years that determine whether the work will be poor and thin or rich and fine. The material in my town was rich and fine indeed.”
Place Called Maine: 24 Writers on the Maine Experience is all I’d want it to be. It speaks to the Maine I love in voices that truly bring it to life.
(Subject line is from Wesley McNair’s Ship, Dream, Pond, Talk)