William Carpenter is an award-winning writer and founding member and teacher at the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbour, Maine. Silence* is his latest novel. Set in Maine in 2006, Nick Colonna is an Iraq War veteran rendered deaf in an explosion that killed two of his comrades and best friends. Repatriated back to his home in Ledgeport, Maine he refuses to have anything to do with VA services and prefers to live in his silent, solitary world. Even his girlfriend Brenda has moved on.
Nick’s most enjoyable memories are of his time on Amber Island, most recently with Brenda before he shipped out and as a child with his grandfather, who worked in the now-abandoned granite mine there. Nick purchases an old dory, fixes it up and rows out there to revisit his happier past.
“He came to this island either to remember or forget.”
There is a run-down sheepherder’s cabin there from decades ago when sheep were raised on Amber which Nick repairs sufficiently enough to live rough in.
“It’s as if something led him directly from the broiling homicidal desert to this place, all things intervening just the waystations of a dream.”
What he does find is evidence of the Indigenous inhabitants that once populated the island long before First Contact. He finds implements carved from swordfish bones and even some bones of the inhabitants as well. Back in the Ledgeport library, a computer search informs him of “The Lost Red Paint People” that lived along the coast 6,000 years ago.
“They passed by Amber in their seagoing dugouts and chose it for the red color of its soil. They glazed their bodies and all possessions with red hematite for the blood that joined them, blood of killed mammals and swordfish and finally their own, mixed with the ferrous capillaries
of the earth that still leach out of the island like a shrapnel wound.”
Nick assumes the role of the caretaker of their secret, as he eventually becomes the de facto caretaker of the island himself, which is owned by the Marston Fletcher family of Boston. They have a summer home in Ledgeport and Marston, the late father of the family would take them to the island to camp out when the children were still young. Unbeknownst to Nick, while he is at the library, he crosses paths with Julia Fletcher, the youngest of the family and an environmental activist who wants Amber Island to remain untouched, especially as her older sister and her husband want to build a grand estate on the island for their bereaved mother and for tourist income as well.
The two eventually cross paths on amber itself and (communicating solely by a Blackberry since Nick remains silent) realize that they have a shared purpose in saving Amber Island from progress.
While Julia and Nick are only twenty-somethings, Silence contains many Boomer-generation references, particularly to books, movies and music. (Once a reference was made to the movie Taxi Driver, I henceforth pictured Nick as a young De Niro). I never felt I was reading a book that was ‘too young’ for me. In fact, I truly enjoyed the story, although the post-climax part of the book has a somewhat too-tidy conclusion. Nevertheless, Silence has several strong points, such as the depiction of the Iraq War experience, the constant alertness of a combat-trained Nick, even though he is ‘safe’ back home (anything can conceal an explosive, even Julia’s camera) and his survivalist experiences as a hearing-impaired individual alone on an island. (Nick’s vengeful encounter with a sheep-killing coyote is downright scary).
An excellent story by a mature writer, who pens a distinctive look at small-town America in the post 9/11 and Iraq War years. Silence is a Miramichi Reader “Pick” for an extraordinary book published outside Canada and written by a non-Canadian author.
*Note: this review was based on an Advance Reading Copy provided by the publisher. Silence will be released in June 2021.
William Carpenter is the author of The Wooden Nickel; A Keeper of Sheep; Speaking Fire at Stones; Rain, winner of the 1985 Morse Poetry Prize; and The Hours of Morning: Poems 1976-79. Until his retirement, he was a professor at the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine.
- Publisher: Islandport Press Inc (June 22 2021)
- Language: English
- Paperback: 300 pages
- ISBN-10: 1944762884
- ISBN-13: 978-1944762889
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