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Stern Men    by Elizabeth Gilbert order for
Stern Men
by Elizabeth Gilbert
Order:  USA  Can
Houghton Mifflin, 2003 (2000)
Hardcover, Paperback
* *   Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth

Being the captain of a lobster boat is a hard life. Not only is the sea a cruel master and the crustacean sometimes very hard to find, but there's the weather to contend with, as well as stern men who are often not as bright as they could be. Especially when they come from a small island where their forebears have lived for generations and have intermarried with relatives many times over. Lifelong feuds with other lobstermen make a hard life even harder.

Stern Men is the story of a young girl, born on an island off the coast of Maine, who grows up discontented. After her education at a private school, she knows she wants to stay on the island - but must find a way to do so, and at the same time make her mark on the world. Ruth Thomas is a wonderful character - born quiet and introspective, but also scrappy, inquisitive, compassionate, and with an intuitive sense of what is right for her.

The lobstermen who people the book all exhibit the stuff it takes for them to live in a raw world. The Ellis family, who spend their summers on the island, engender indignation for the way they treat others ... Ruth's mother and grandmother, to name two. It's easy to get caught up in the everyday life of the characters. So different than the lives we live. The story unfolds, as a story should - piece by piece, handed to us as a prize for having read the previous pages. I learned more about lobstering than I ever thought I wanted to know, and feel richer for it.

Stern Men is a first novel for Elizabeth Gilbert. It's a good book funny, rich with human emotion, sad, poignant, and at times buoyant. I had trouble putting it down and felt a loss when I finished it. I do hope Gilbert rewards us with another glorious tale.

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