Ruth Moore’s classic novel Spoonhandle is still as relevant as ever
I first heard of Ruth Moore through bumper sticker. In retrospect, this unusual event reflects not only Moore’s status as a literary icon in Maine, but also the state’s vibrant literary culture, which manages to exist and thrive in a magical space – the “Maine of the Spirit.” As a writer and artist Stephen Petroff called it – outside of the Vacationland Matrix. “I Read Ruth Moore” bumper stickers began to appear in New England at the turn of the 20th century, thanks to visionary poet Gary Lawless and his Blackberry Books. Some 50 years after Moore’s early novels were published in the 1940s, in the islands of Maine of his childhood, Lawless was responsible for Moore’s Second Wave.
Today, in the third decade of the 21st century, Ruth Moore is experiencing a third wave, thanks to Islandport Press, which is republishing many of her works of fiction and poetry over the next several years.
Moore’s literary crown jewel is “Spoonhandle,” his 1946 novel about the fictional islands Big Spoon and Little Spoon. The novel, reissued earlier this year, spent 14 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and was turned into the film sadly unfaithful to the book “Deep Waters.” But the proceeds of the film allowed Moore to return to his beloved island Mount Desert, just three miles from the Great Gott Island of his childhood.
Moore’s fictional drama about savage independence, fishing, and tensions between islanders and rich people “from afar” lands in our midst during pandemic, racial discord, and profound US and global upheaval . How does “Spoonhandle” resist these contemporary troubles? Like many classic literary works, the stories of Ann, Willie, and Hod have improved over time; indeed, the book seems surprisingly prescient.
It’s the story of Ann Freeman – as she returns home to Little Spoon Island to stand up to her father and assert herself as a writer – who climbs to the top of the novel. It’s easy to imagine Netflix going for this coming-of-age comedy drama and starring Emma Watson. The book feels in tune with Greta Gerwig’s 2019 adaptation of “Little Women” or her “Lady Bird” from 2017.
Ann’s dedication to her writing and finding her own room, barely 20 years after Virginia Woolf published her landmark essay in England, stood out to me, as did her real estate contract: Ann buys her fish house / studio writing for $ 25 from Mary Mackay, a stern but generous woman. It’s a surprisingly feminist empowerment deal, in which both parties receive something valuable – although buying an on-water writing studio for $ 25 (!) Seems like the best of all. the offers available today.
Although Ann relies on the carpentry skills of Hod and Willie Stilwell to fix the fish house, she is definitely self-sufficient. The romance between her and Hod may lead to the happy ending of the book, but when, in one of the most romantic scenes, he kisses Ann, it’s because she’s finished her novel: “It’s to be.” a smart girl and finish her job, ‘He told her. “And this one is for me.” He kissed her again. As for Ann, there is a feeling that she will be writing more books in her fish shop.
Moore’s fictional world in “Spoonhandle” is largely white. But while Moore is sometimes lumped together with a certain type of romanticism of fishing on the Maine coast (which may include whiteness as one of her unspoken central tenets), she knew the notion of a fishing industry entirely white was a fiction. She invested a significant portion of the narrative in “Spoohhandle” to Joe Sangor, a Portuguese immigrant fisherman who lives with his family on a small but desirable piece of land on the water’s edge. Sangor’s story is complicated. Some locals treat him well and welcome him, others don’t. His fate in the story ultimately comes into the hands of those who don’t, a situation that prompts a frustrated Hod to warn a group of passive onlookers.
“You should plan to get your head out of the sand someday,” he said. “It’s a little hard to believe that people with funny names who haven’t lived in the same place and the same way all their lives as you can be decent humans, too.
Here we see the righteous Ruth Moore who worked as an NAACP investigator in the southern United States of the 1930s. Moore made the path of racial justice in her real life, so when she wrote about her country d Originally, Moore knew his future was not about embracing a mythologized past, but how we welcome people here and speak to them with respect.
Moore’s ear for dialogue and the distinctive Maine coastline turns of phrase now feel like gifts from the past, those singing surprises, humor and poetry. Any young writer who is wondering if writing dialect characters can work should take Ruth Moore as an example. If a character goes missing on a frivolous and reckless journey, he’s “gone on a toot.” If a character drinks a bitter herb drink, he gags and exclaims, “Bthah!” But my favorite is, “‘He hangs out like a halibut,” Hod said, panting. “If it’s a shark, it’s a jeasly one.” “I love it not only for the alliterative H’s, but also for the sake of putting a word like ‘jeasly.’ Such phrases spice up the novel.
In Moore’s novels, the grandeur of the Maine landscape rises to the level of one character, perhaps the most significant character. The epigraph to Moore’s first novel, “The Weir,” declares home as the place where you feel homesick, even when you are there. In “Spoonhandle,” Moore leads the reader into the geography of his home, as in this passage towards the end of the book where the peace of the landscape allows Myron, merchant and minor character, to make a difficult decision:
“The houses in the village were almost supernatural white. On the shore the gray dock shelters appeared black against the silvery water, and he could even make out the separate piles of the dock, the light was so bright and clear. Like a thud from afar, he could hear the slow, gentle rise and fall of the sea, moving lazily along the ledges.
Moore died in 1989. It turns out that that first bumper sticker I saw so many years ago was put there by the woman I would later have been lucky enough to marry. This is the magic that runs through this book. If you are not yet familiar with Moore’s work, choose “Spoonhandle” and experience its magic for yourself.
Jefferson Navicky is the archivist of the Maine Women Writers Collection, which houses the Ruth Moore Collection. He is a poet and author of three books of fiction, including the next “Antique Densities”.