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Island Justice: A Novel
     

Island Justice: A Novel

by Elizabeth Winthrop
 
In this compelling, evocative novel set on a small island off the New England coast, Elizabeth Winthrop subtly examines our notions of home.

For Maggie Hammond, home means her beloved godmother, so when Nan dies, the Victorian house she inhabited becomes merely a possession for Maggie to shed. Bur when she meets Sam, the island naturalist, and a dead body rolls up

Overview

In this compelling, evocative novel set on a small island off the New England coast, Elizabeth Winthrop subtly examines our notions of home.

For Maggie Hammond, home means her beloved godmother, so when Nan dies, the Victorian house she inhabited becomes merely a possession for Maggie to shed. Bur when she meets Sam, the island naturalist, and a dead body rolls up on her beach, she finds herself drawn deeper and deeper into the complex world of the island's winter community.

For Anna Craven, married to an abusive bully, home is fraught with danger and shrouded in secrets. As Anna grows closer to Dennis Lacey, the newly arrived island doctor, gossip flies and the domestic problems long hidden behind closed doors erupt into violence. The tightly knit group of year-rounders are forced to examine the erosive undertow of secrecy that threatens to destroy the island community they call home.

A beautifully observed novel in the tradition of Anne Tyler and Alice Hoffman, Island Justice sets Maggie's struggle to trust the pulls of her heart against the backdrop of a community intent on pursuing its own unique brand of justice.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Set among the year-round inhabitants of a small summering spot off the New England coast, the absorbing second novel from PEN Syndicated Fiction Award winner and popular children's author Winthrop (In My Mother's House) delivers an illuminating story of a crisis of community. When antique furniture conservator Maggie Hammond inherits a rambling island house from her beloved godmother, she intends to sell the property and resume her peripatetic life. But when she falls in love with teacher and naturalist Sam Matera, a year-round resident, she changes her mind even after a body washes up on the nearby beach. As winter settles in, Winthrop describes the raw beauty and isolation of the island in the off-season (readers of Anne Rivers Siddons's Up Island may find similarities) and introduces other nicely realized year-rounders: Al Craven, a corrupt general contractor and the island's sheriff; dog trainer Anna Craven; their daughter Erin; Dennis Lacey, the new full-time island doctor whose marriage to a sophisticated New Yorker is on the rocks; and various, skillfully portrayed secondary characters. Balancing the love story between Maggie and Sam is the more complex tale of the attraction between Anna Craven and Dennis Lacey and the account of the Cravens' abusive marriage. Al doesn't hit Anna but he reminds her constantly that he ought to. His insidious bullying is tolerated by many on the island, but Dennis' presence makes Anna want out. When she and Erin try to make their getaway, the islanders suspect her plan and silently cheer her on. Only when the attempt fails (in a series of chillingly realistic scenes) do the islanders begin to speak out and take action. Winthrop escalates the tension and keeps the final plot twists of the Craven drama unpredictable as she brings the strengths of their community to the fore. FYI: Winthrop is the daughter of political journalist Stewart Alsop.
Kirkus Reviews
The interconnected lives and loves of a Maine island's summer and off-season people are explored with engaging warmth in a rather loose, baggy chronicle, from the author of numerous books for children and one previous adult novel, In My Mother's House (1988). As the story begins, 30ish Maggie Hammond, a consultant specializing in the restoration of antique furniture, returns to the (unnamed) island to claim the old house left to her by her late godmother. Winthrop then gradually introduces Maggie's year-round neighbors: contractor (and sheriff) Al Craven, his abused wife Anna, and their 13-year-old daughter Erin; Dennis Lacey, a newly arrived physician; Chuck Montclair, a kind of village sage who quietly observes others' conflicts; and Sam Matera, deemed "the naturalist," to whom Maggie is instantly attracted. The novel springs some surprises, thanks to the skill with which Winthrop shifts the viewpoint (Maggie is by no means its sole focus). But the major actions are nevertheless contrived and predictable: A nurse who sleeps around discovers, and displays, evidence of an extramarital affair; Al's brutal treatment of Anna (and habit of slipping into Erin's bed) produces explosive results; teenagers vandalize empty houses; and Al's construction company, no straight-arrow, is discovered to be using inferior materials and bribing building inspectors. Winthrop does best in portraying Erin's baffled awareness of sex—several scenes involving kids are among the book's sharpest—but she labors too much in distinguishing "island people" from their less communal mainland counterparts ("we jump when the siren goes off and take chances when somebody's in trouble. It's notbecause we're morally upright human beings. It's just because there's this circle of water around us that forces us to be that way"). Add a loose-end tying finale in which a wounded dog recovers and people get the partners they desire, and what you have is a pretty conventional melodrama after all.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780688159207
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
07/01/1998
Pages:
356
Product dimensions:
6.41(w) x 9.55(h) x 1.22(d)

Read an Excerpt

Nan died late in June up on the island. They found her at the bottom of the porch steps, her hand resting on her throat, as it always did when she was contemplating something.

"She went without pain," Maggie's mother said when she called her in London to tell her the news. "The doctor says her heart gave out. Just like that."

"But she was only seventy-three. So young," Maggie whispered.

"A year older than me," her mother said. "And I expected her to outlast me. She seemed so strong, toughing it out up there right through those grim winters."

There was a delay, a transatlantic hiccup on the line, and they both started to talk at once. Her mother prevailed and Maggie heard, "They'll have a service on Saturday. Up on the island of course. She'll be buried there."

Sitting cross-legged on the bed in her hotel in London, Maggie could still believe that Nan was waiting for her on the other side of the Atlantic as she always had before. It was seven A.M. in the States. Surely she was out on the porch this very morning in her favorite wicker chair with that old moth-eaten blanket still wrapped around her knees. Any minute now she'd hoist herself to her feet and go down the steps to the perennial garden where she would putter about, adjusting a stake here, snapping a dead blossom off there. And later in the day, after lunch and a nap, she would make her way down through the apple trees to the narrow stony beach where she and Maggie swam every afternoon in the summer, their feet stuffed into white rubber shoes because the rocks were slimy with algae and unpredictable. In the long evenings, they'd set up a round table in the corner of the porch for raucous sunset dinners with all themisfits on the island, both summer and winter people mixed. Nan had been a year-rounder for over twenty years and served as a bridge between the two worlds. The day began and ended with the porch. Nan belonged there. And Maggie belonged there too, but only with her. Only with Nan alive.

MAGGIE'S LAST VISIT to the island had been cut short by a call from a private dealer in London who asked her to come over and survey a collection of eighteenth-century furniture. If he purchased the lot, he would want her to oversee the conservation work on the pieces.

"But you've only been here five days," Nan had said over their usual morning tea on the porch. Fog was rolling up the hill from the ocean, and Maggie had wrapped an extra blanket around Nan's knees. "You're barely over jet lag from the Madrid trip. Poor Kasha. You just got her here and now you're going to haul her back down to Philadelphia and throw her in that kennel again

.At the sound of her name, the Siberian husky lifted her head and eyed Maggie. Her leash was tied to the porch railing.

"Don't be so dramatic, Nan," Maggie said. She was sitting on the railing looking out over the orchard where Nan's daffodils had just begun to bloom. "She doesn't stay in a kennel. My friend Susan takes her. She loves Kasha. Besides, this is big. The first job I've gotten with this collector, and he'll pass my name along if I do good work for him."

"It's always a big job, Maggie." Nan lowered her teacup to the glass-topped table. "You've been on the go constantly since last fall. The business is well established by now. You can surely afford to turn down one or two projects."

"I know I can. But if there's work out there for me, why turn it down?"

"Ah, youth, " Nan said. " At your age, I was always on the run too. Look at your foot. It hasn't stopped jiggling since you got here. Last night, it made the china rattle at dinner. I kept thinking one of the legs of that old table had come unglued."

"Knowing the way you treat your furniture, it probably has," Maggie said. She glanced down and stilled her foot. "I hadn't noticed."

"Of course you hadn't. I never did either. If I have one regret in life, it's that I didn't learn to be still earlier on.

"When did you learn?"

"Not till I was in my fifties. When I moved up here full time. Island living has a way of slowing you down." Nan laughed and pointed. "Look, your foot's started up again."

At that, Maggie had stood up and cleared away their tea things.

SHE FLEW BACK for the service, a quick round trip between London and a museum meeting in Amsterdam. Nan's two nephews and their wives were there. One of them had put together a lunch at the house.

"You'll come, I hope," the woman said. Her name was Jane, and Maggie had only met her once or twice. The nephews rarely came to visit Nan on the island.

Nobody in her family ever understood why she had moved up there full time. "You know all the people out here better than we do."

Maggie had been hoping to avoid the house. She glanced at her watch. "I have to catch a plane first thing tomorrow out of Logan for Europe."

"It won't be long, I promise you. The four of us have reservations on the afternoon ferry."

"All right, just for a minute.

Maggie refused to walk through the house, but went around the side to the porch where sandwiches and iced tea had been set out on two long tables. The whole island had come, some to honor Nan and others for the free lunch. Lots of people pushed through the crowd to greet Maggie. Although they knew she was only the goddaughter, they thought of her as the real family. She had spent her childhood summers with Nan, and in the twenty years since then, had come back three or four times a year. Most of the faces were familiar to her, but they blurred together as she shook one hand after another. People murmured their condolences, and all the while Maggie kept pointing to her watch and explaining about her transatlantic flight. After an hour, she managed to hitch a ride with a departing guest to the tiny island airfield.

When the small plane banked into a left turn above the shoreline, Maggie had a clear view of Nan's house crowning the hill above the little inlet. Three stories high, with the porch all along the front and the kitchen wing sprawling over to the side. All the years Maggie had come to visit, the house had never felt large to her, but now, looking down on it from the air, she wondered at Nan rattling around in that enormous place all by herself, year after year.

Would she ever see it again? she wondered. Probably not. Without Nan, there would be no reason to come to the island. She closed her eyes. An overnight in Boston and then on the plane to Amsterdam tomorrow. She couldn't let herself think about Nan now. Not yet. Later on she'd make herself face it. When she had more time.

Two WEEKS LATER Maggie was house-sitting at a friend's flat in London when her mother called again.

"You've got something here from a Matthew Bunker, Esquire, up on the island. I think he must be Nan's lawyer. Do you want me to open it?"

"I guess you'd better."

There was a pause and Maggie could hear the rustling of papers. "It's the will," her mother said. "With a letter. Oh, boy."

"What does it say?"

"It seems she's left you the house."

"To me? Not the two nephews? Are you sure?"

"That's what the letter says. Apparently she rewrote her will at the end of April."

"I was there in April and she never mentioned it to me," Maggie said.

"It does make a certain amount of sense. You were her goddaughter, after all."Maggie was silent, her hand over her mouth.

"It's a huge present, Maggie. The house is probably worth quite a bit."

"Yes, I know."

"If you're intending to sell it, summer's the only time."

"I can't talk about it now. I've got so much going on here. I'll deal with it later. Thanks, Mother."

She remembered how large the house had looked from the air. It loomed in her mind, pressed against her with its weight. What was she going to do with a house? Nothing right now, she decided. Later. She would think about it later.

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