Moon Tide: A Novel

Moon Tide: A Novel

5.0 3
by Dawn Clifton Tripp

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Lush and fiercely beautiful, Moon Tide follows the lives of three women in a small fishing town on the Massachusetts coast, from 1913 to the Great New England Hurricane of 1938. With lyrical prose, wisdom, and insight, Dawn Clifton Tripp maps the shifting tensions in a small town on the verge of change. Like the growing weight of a storm, the lives in


Lush and fiercely beautiful, Moon Tide follows the lives of three women in a small fishing town on the Massachusetts coast, from 1913 to the Great New England Hurricane of 1938. With lyrical prose, wisdom, and insight, Dawn Clifton Tripp maps the shifting tensions in a small town on the verge of change. Like the growing weight of a storm, the lives in Westport Point build in emotional momentum even as the storm approaches, and the landscape of the earth comes to reflect the geography of the mind. A novel of love and loss, survival and revelation, Moon Tide is an extraordinary debut.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“A shimmering work, an audacious debut; a gem.”
-Edna O’Brien

“A dream of a book—hypnotic, poetic, transporting the reader through time and space. . . . Moon Tide is the thinking woman’s beach book.”
The Charlotte Observer

“Moon Tide is a haunting meditation—reminiscent of Louise Erdrich—on family, place, love, mourning, and memory. . . . It feels like a dream.”
—HAVEN KIMMEL, author of A Girl Named Zippy

“Meticulously observed . . . A rich, tumultuous wave of natural lore and dailiness, love, loss, and revenge . . . all rendered by a young writer of impressive talent and heart.”
The Providence Journal

“[A] smooth, sorrowful beauty of a first novel.”

“Sensual and visceral . . . Impressively researched and often hypnotic.”
The Boston Globe

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.23(w) x 7.96(h) x 0.65(d)

Read an Excerpt




Westport Point

Early June. They wash in over the bridge and down to their huge cottages on East Beach and behind the Horseneck dunes. The Hotel Westport sheds its window boards and the music off the phonograph circles the wraparound porch. It sticks in the slats between the shingle wood, notes of new and unfamiliar jazz spilling down the front steps with women in sandal heels and long city dresses that slowly rise with the years toward the knee.

They swell like driftwood down Main Road and fill the pews of the Point Church on Sundays in July. They race swift teak boats with names like Anemone and Bonito from the Harbor Rocks to the bridge and back. They dance up huge white tents for parties on Saturday nights at the Gallows Pavilion, chauffeured clambakes at Remington's, and knicker barbecues on the west branch sandflats at low tide. They are faceless, the way light is faceless. Gone by the second week in September.

Elizabeth Gonne Lowe stays on. When her son, Charles, and her granddaughter, Eve, leave the town with the rest who return to their homes in the city, Elizabeth closes off the guest wing on the north side of the house. She arranges for groceries to be delivered once a week from Blackwood's store. She stuffs old towels underneath the doors that have warped and hires a local man to set a layer of storm glass on the exposed windows of the upstairs rooms.

Elizabeth does not fit in the corners with the people from town. They are Swamp Yankee-they come from old families that have been in Westport since King Philip's War. She was born in 1848 Ireland, three years after the blight arrived from North America, spread with the damp cold through the potato crop, and sucked the leaves and tubers black. She lived in Connemara, on the mainland next to Omey Island. Her father owned one hundred acres of land in barely a town called Skirdagh farther north in County Mayo. In 1856, he traded that land for some coins and a keg of salted meat, then packed his wife and children onto a cattle boat bound for Liverpool. From there, they boarded a ship to America. On the crossing, the six of them slept with their provisions on two pallet bunks. The youngest daughter died of the black fever and was buried in a sailcloth sack thrown overboard. When they landed in Boston, their skin was the color of heath and hung like washed linen on their bones.

They walked their way inland to Concord. Elizabeth and her older brother, Sean, grew sick on the handfuls of raspberries they tore from the briers on the side of the road. For six months, the family crowded into the attic room of an Irish-owned boardinghouse. Her father spread himself into whatever odd work he could find while her mother took shifts in the village bakeshop, sifting flour, cutting the steam out of bread, and coating the stiff loaves with a milk wash that soothed the roughened grain.

When Elizabeth was twenty-one, she met Henry Lowe, the only son of a prominent Transcendentalist. She married him the following summer under the grapevined trellis in his father's apple orchard. Lowe was a graduate student in zoology at Harvard, obsessed with the relationship between the migration of glaciers and obsolete fish. He shared the belief of his professor, Jean Louis Rodolphe Agassiz, that while climactic and geologic change could bring about extinction, each new species was a thought of God. He helped Agassiz start an experimental school for marine science on Penikese, the afterthought of an island off Cuttyhunk on the fringe of a deep rip shoal in Buzzards Bay. Less than a year later, Agassiz died. The Anderson School stayed open one more summer, and Henry Lowe lived on the island with his young wife. Three weeks before the school closed, they went out sailing. They followed a small flock of gulls trailing a catboat and sailed through a break in the coastline into a narrow switchback harbor. They docked at the tip of Westport Point and walked less than a mile up Main Road when Elizabeth fell in love with unanswered boulders lying in the middle of a field. She begged her husband for the tumble of land down to the river. Henry bought it for her, and she named it Skirdagh, after the town her father had sold for meat in the wake of the Great Famine.

They made love in the juniper woods and Elizabeth lay there afterward, her bare arms scathed in sunlight on the dark cool soil. She looked up toward the new pine shell of their house rising against the sky, the inside still damp with the smell of mason's glue and paint mixed from a base of linseed oil. She did not know then that in less than a year she would bear a son and her husband would leave to go in search of God among the ice floes. Henry would sail on the Jeannette with naval lieutenant George De Long to the Arctic Circle. They would prove the existence of the Wrangel landmass, they would discover the De Long Islands, and Henry Lowe would come to understand the secrets that live in a blue glacial flesh. He would hear the thoughts of God in the slow ticking of the ice. Two years into the voyage, the Jeannette sailed into a black lead that narrowed, and she was crushed between two sheets of moving ice. Her wreckage drifted for two hundred and fifty-four miles; the crew perished, among them Henry Lowe; and the journey of their wrecked hull came to be interpreted as evidence of predictable polar tides.

. . .

When the first snow dusts the sandhills on the far side of the river and her own footsteps begin to spook along behind her through the house, this is the past that Elizabeth Lowe thinks back on. She pulls the hand-knit afghans from the sea chest. She boils up a thick porridge on the stove, and when the salt wind drives in off the river and howls like a living thing along the edges of the sill, she folds herself into the house for the winter.



The end of summer, 1913. After the town had emptied itself of strangers and thinned to its slower blood, there was Maggie. Long bones and dark hands, living in the root cellar on a handful of juniper land behind the big house called Skirdagh that belonged to Elizabeth Lowe.

Blackwood never said where he thought Maggie came from. He'd be scrubbing down the fish counter at the wharf store and he'd listen to the silt they talked about her that churned up in spurts like mud off the bottom in surf. He watched how eventually they grew tired of it, and so she settled into them, the way ballast gravel settles in the belly of a cod and eventually grows to become a part of the fish. After the first few winters, no one seemed to remember that

she had come from anywhere but the land by Skirdagh's root cellar. She was as much a part of the air as the salt and the iodine reek off the flats.

Blackwood says nothing, but he knows things about her: that she reads faces in smoke and talks eggs out of infertile hens. He has seen her catch the sun in her hands when it is red and deep in one socket of the sky. She can see storms in the clouds four days away. Her fingers are long and brown; he has watched them picking through the gingham in his store. They are the kinds of hands that twist like soft roots through soil. He knows that six days of every week she works for Elizabeth Lowe, tending the old woman's needs.

When Maggie is still young, she will trade him baskets of peas, yellow crookneck squash, carrots, beets, and parsley. She smells of butter. In summer, she wears galoshes and a straw hat with a tremendous brim that shelters her face.

Every day at noon, she walks down Thanksgiving Lane, past the wharf across the bridge to the dunes with a basket she has woven out of reed. Blackwood will take his horse sometimes down the rut path to Cummings Brook. He will see her cutting alder bark and the leaves off white violet. He will see her in the garden as he passes by on his way to Central Village. From the road, she seems small, as if she could easily fit into one of his hands. When he gets home late in the afternoon, he will make love to his wife on the wood shelf in the pantry while Maggie wades behind his lids, bare-legged, through the tomato vines, her dress tied up around her knees.

He knows that she can down a fever with bayberry tallow, cut the sleep from chamomile and gut oil out of corn. She can talk skunk cabbage up through the ice and draw the first trout into the creek to spawn, but she is the kind of woman who would blow her nose on a man's shirt when he wasn't looking, capsize his boat if she stepped on it.

In winter, when the town has lost itself in snow, a pod of men will gather in the back room of Blackwood's store with a coal stove and half a dozen boys. They sit on nail kegs and barter stories back and forth the way they trade coffee for pelts and sugar for a mess of eels. They mend their nets in the telling with needles they have filed out of wood. Maggie watches the endless loop of twine around the funnel ring, the pulling of knots in each corner of a link. She sits outside their circle, beyond reach of the kerosene lamp, so to them, her face is a floating mass of shadow and her eyes two chips of flint. She is sixteen and not quite one of them. Not quite real.

She listens to Asa MacKenzie's stories of how his grandfather hunted corpse whales off a ship that was locked in Baffin Bay; how the men waited for a month on the deck as the pack ice moved them south until one day the ship's ribs split and they left her sinking and walked three hundred miles out of the passage on a mass of moving ice. She listens to Carlton Wilkes's story of how his uncle's seal boat capsized in a storm off Newfoundland and seven of the crew floated for two weeks on a raft with a makeshift sail. Four died of starvation, and the three that lived bled one another to survive and drank the blood out of a shoe. She listens to Blackwood tell his own story of how he washed up on Gooseberry Island and was nudged awake by a screaming herd of Spud Mason's sheep trapped on the neck by the flood tide. When he woke, stripped and with six of his toes eaten black by the cold, he had only one memory and a pocketknife strapped to his wrist.

She watches Blackwood more closely than she watches the others. She watches how his fingers weave his nets the way she culls knowing from the smooth underbark of an elm. His hands are tremendous and scarred from years of hauling lines; the middle finger of his right, broken and at odd angles from the rest; the little finger of the left, a stump bitten off by a bluefish. His hands move, swift in the orange mid-light, with the needle like a matchstick between them. She can see how his stories are born out of the mending and she thinks about the place she came from-a thin land of heat and huge surf where the fruit she loved had orange flesh and grew from a nut tree with a name in her language that was the same as the word for woman.

The stories of the men settle into her, and when they are drunk on the clear moon juice that Caleb Mason has brought from the still between his ponds, she leaves them and walks with full arms back up the road. She carries their stories back to her root cellar. Some she grinds in the tin bowl like seeds. Some she buries with the herring bones

in the earth of her garden. A few she will hang upside down in the back room among the dwarf marsh elder, the soft kelp, and sage. Blackwood's story she will crack open between her teeth, scrape the meat out of its shell. As she chews the grit in her mouth, she remembers that she did not take the memory that washed up with him in the mass of sheep and manure on the Gooseberry stones, but when she was a child, she split the body of a coconut apart to thieve its milk. Even then, she loved the taste of what was stolen.

She lives in the town for a good six months before they see her. She thins herself into the trees and crawls between rocks like an idea before its time, which takes up no space, and then as if out of nowhere, explodes into the mind.

Meet the Author

DAWN CLIFTON TRIPP graduated from Harvard with an A.B. in literature. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband and son. This is her first novel.

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Moon Tide 3.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 13 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
What is most amazing about this auspicious first novel is the pacing. Like the tides themselves, the book draws you in to moments of tension and lets you out in contemplations of beauty. I was sucked in, but never so deep that I couldn't slow down and revel in the poetic turns of phrase and rejoice at the love of language and life that infuses 'Moon Tide'. There is a description of unquestioned faith--'a crude and simple melding of her father's Christ, her mother's Saints, and the earthy superstitions all the Irish wore close to the skin. Her faith had never been something outside herself. never something she needed an object for. It came naturally to her...'-- that struck me simply as equally beautiful and right. A great read, that has kept me coming back to it all week. I have already bought copies for 3 friends!
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Carmliv More than 1 year ago
A simple story of deep personal longing and memory. Told with the power of nature and rhythms of the ocean in prose so beautiful it's almost poetry. A New England sea village entwined with lives of the summer folks and the locals with a unknown impending disaster in the making. This one is to keep and re-read. Will look for this author and future publications.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Although too wordy and difficult to get through, the book boasts a great story line about a woman who sleeps with another's husband - written so intuitively it seems to come from personal experience. Beautiful insight into the mind of a woman who takes another's husband.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book has some really poetic writing, but it is so bunched up and apparaently shoved in wherever another convoluted line could fit. The plot is slow, and not what I would call a slow burn - just slow. Because of the intense and wordy writing, I found myself having to go back a page to remember what I was reading about. I think a page or two at a time could be relished for the word crafting and description of Westport, but not in a novel format. The author should write lyrics to a song, where cool phrases one after the other sound good, versus a whole book of akwardly fit descriptions. Also, the plot had weird offshoots that made no sense - the graphic and misplaced lesbian affair in the middle, the new characters at the very end. The lesbian affair was especially out of the realm of beleivability for that character. It was as if the author just wanted to put one in somewhere, so she picked a spot and made room for it. I was born and raised in Westport, where the book takes place, and so many of the hurricane stories were simply lifted from old folks in the town, with no credit given. This book isn't worth the time it takes to get through it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Extra words don't make atmosphere... good writing does. Dawn Clifton Tripp weighs down a painfully slow plot with too many words, too many heavy descriptions. I am an avid and ravenous reader, but this book was like wading through mud for me, with no 'up-side'. Some books have this same wading-through-mud feeling, but then somehow something in the plot, the voice, makes it worthwhile. This book doesn't have any redeaming value to make up for it's weighed-down feeling. I do have to say that Dawn Clifton Tripp writes the part of Maggie absolutely brilliantly. Maggie is the adulterous woman who has sex with the married man, Blackwood. Clifton Tripp writes with such a realistic feel to Maggie, that one could beleive the author had once been in the same position. Maggie voice is so clear that the reader just knows that Cifton Tripp had to have had that same adulterous experience. Overall, it's not a worthwile read, even for Westport natives. The brilliant portrayal of an adulteror gives Clifton Tripp some writing worth bragging about, however.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a vivid, thoroughly satisfying read, a novel you can settle in with and plum forget about the world. This author is so damned skilled and inventive, she sets scenes in blazing fires and on raging rivers, switches character voices seamlessly, and even tells one part from the point of view of a hurricane. I was surprised I loved it so much ¿ I'm usually not a fan of historical novels. But MOON TIDE deserves a place in everyone¿s library! Instead of feeling remote, this fiction based in history feels immediate, even passionate. Dawn Clifton Tripp makes a lost era come alive, tells the rich saga of a community crawling with quirky characters, and offers a powerful love story. She is simply a great writer, one who can evoke the taste of food, the texture of land, the essence of human beings. This book will blow you away (no pun intended!). It will remind you of why you read. It's compelling and genuinely moving - don't miss it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
WOW! Tripp has a wonderful writing style rhythm that reminds me of the gentle ocean waves of the town of Westport, MA she writes about. As a New Englander I found it a captivating read that pulled me into an era gone by with confidence and passion. A wonderful cast of characters. Hard to believe this is a first time novel! I had just read the fast paced Da Vinci Code by a fellow New England author Dan Brown and found Moon Tide a wonderful Summer compliment that educated and entertained me in a completely different and intellectual way. This should be anybody's next read and you will not be disappointed.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a woeful first novel. The story is so careless, so cliqued and so beneath the level to be found in most books today I had a hard time believing what I was reading. But what really lost me was the overwritten characters the author has created that do not transfer well into the history and circumstances of the time. This is supposed to be a historical novel. But it is more like modern characters placed in a historical time- that is probably why they something in the book just doesn't seem to mesh. From the nailkegs the fishermen sit on, to the way the workmen mend the stone fences, Tripp authortaritive voice simpley does not allow these characters and these people to come to life. Further, her depiction of the approaching hurricane is dull and lifeless. She renders anti-climatic one of the most dramatic disasters of all time with her ponderous, overwritten prose. In total, this work of fiction is lacking in almost everything one desires in a novel. Solemn writing, lifeless characters, no meaningful insights into the historical world the characters inhabit, and a stagnant plot that keeps one wishing for the story to finally end.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This story is like a band with everyone playing a different song. While each voice may be melodious alone, together they move in too many directions at once- making an imcomprehensible racket with no beat and no underlying direction. The characters can be nicely depicted at times, but the plot and the overall story is truly disappointing.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book soooo slow in getting to the point and heart of the story on nearly every level. So much time is spent reflecting on the details of the landscape and early coastal living that I never really find out anything meaningful about the characters, or the driving force of the story-the hurricane. I have heard of slow build-ups, but this was just agony. I wonder if anyone could really live the way the author portrays- constantly in the narcissistic annals of their own mind, without regard for those around them or others feelings. If a character examines something over and over, it doesn't make them empathetic. In the same way, if you put words down together for 300 pages, it doesn't make it a book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
If one of my students turned this in as a creative writing assignment I would say, 'It is a wonderful attempt..but you failed to do the assignment.' There is no story to this novel, just a few well turned phrases. Because of this it can be a confusing and bumpy read.