For fans of Elin Hilderbrand and Emma Straub comes an emotionally gripping novel about a woman who returns to her hometown in coastal Maine and finds herself pondering the age-old question of what could have been
Growing up in Little Harbor, Maine, the daughter of a widowed lobsterman, Eliza Barnes could haul a trap and row a skiff with the best of them. But she always knew she'd leave that life behind. Now that she's married, with two kids and a cushy front-row seat to suburban country club gossip in an affluent Massachusetts town, she feels adrift.
When her father injures himself in a boating accident, Eliza pushes the pause button on her own life to come to his aid. But when she arrives in Maine, she discovers her father's situation is more dire than he let on. Eliza's homecoming is further complicated by the reemergence of her first love--and memories of their shared secret. Then Eliza meets Mary Brown, a seventeen-year-old local who is at her own crossroad, and Eliza can't help but wonder what her life would have been like if she'd stayed.
Filled with humor, insight, summer cocktails, and gorgeous sunsets, The Captain's Daughter is a compassionate novel about the life-changing choices we make and the consequences we face in their aftermath.
|Publisher:||Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)|
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“No,” Sheila Rackley was saying, “that’s not how it happened at all, you have to listen to this, it was way worse . . .”
Just then one of Sheila’s children, whose hair was red, whose skin was a pinky brown with freckles, and whose eyelashes were pale, just like his mother’s, appeared before the group of women. He cleared his throat like a senator about to introduce a bill, and said, with great ceremony, “Jackie is being mean to me, Mommy.”
An expression of annoyance briefly crossed Sheila’s face; its passage was so fast that Eliza Barnes wasn’t sure if she’d imagined it or not. It was June, the last day of school, and already hot. They were at the club. Someone had ordered a round of Bloody Marys, which were sweating as much as the women themselves, though the women did it more delicately. Even the celery in Eliza’s drink seemed to have given up, allowing itself to slip in an undignified manner into the tomato juice. Sheila held up a hand to the women and said, “To be continued,” before turning to her son and stage--whispering, “Edward, you did absolutely the right thing, telling me politely instead of screaming, it’s just that Mommy was in the middle of a story—-”
“Is that someone’s phone?” asked Jodi Sanders.
“I don’t care,” said Catherine Cooper. “If it’s mine, I’m letting it ring and ring. It’s summer vacation! I’m off duty.”
“Actually,” said Eliza. “You’re sort of on duty, now that it’s summer vacation, wouldn’t you say?”
“I’ve got two words for you, Eliza,” said Jodi. “Summer. Nanny.”
“Hear, hear,” said Sheila. Her Bloody Mary was gone; she flagged the pale wren of a girl who was serving that day and asked her for another. “Kristi Osgood is home from McGill.”
“I already hired her,” said Deirdre Palmer.
“Figures,” said Sheila. “You need her for your one perfect, well--behaved Sofia.”
“She does!” said Eliza. “You have no idea how much work this EANY gala is for Deirdre.” East Africa Needs You, Deirdre’s pet project. Deirdre and Eliza went way back—-all the way to a breast-feeding class they took at the hospital soon after Sofia and Zoe were born. Sofia and Eliza’s oldest daughter, Zoe, had no choice but to be best friends, really; their friendship had such auspicious, intimate beginnings.
“Eenie, meenie, miney, moe,” said Sheila, one hand on her son’s shoulder. “Anyway. To continue what I was saying. What was I saying?”
“Mom,” said Eddie. “I mean really mean, let me just tell you what—-”
Sheila emitted a small frustrated huff, made a sun visor out of her hand, and peered at her son. After a quarter of a minute she stood and led him firmly to a secluded spot farther from the pool where she crouched in front of him and gesticulated wildly. Eliza could see Eddie nodding, then shaking his head, then nodding again, before turning away and trudging back toward the knot of kids by the pool, a doleful sag to his skinny shoulders.
Eliza scanned the pool area for Zoe and her other daughter, Evie; Sofia and Zoe were reluctantly and temporarily allowing Evie’s ten--year--old earth to orbit their thirteen--year--old sun.
Whenever Eliza pointed out that she herself would have given her eyesight or at least three of her toes for a sister when she was growing up, Zoe let her eyes drift into an almost--roll that she always caught at the last second. Because she knew that Eliza’s loss of her own mother when she was so very young (only twelve! Younger than Zoe was now!) had induced in Eliza a pain that had faded over time but had never gone away, that still—-often—-came out of nowhere to strike at her wrathfully and unforgivingly, like a rheumatoid arthritis flare--up.
Eliza had not had the vocabulary at the time to define the effects of her mother’s death. But she understood, then and now, on a deep and primordial level that every day after the event would become a search for the thing she’d lost.
As a result: lots of therefores.
•Therefore, Eliza would be the best mother possible, because she was alive to be so.
•Therefore, she would appreciate each and every day, no matter what it brought.
•Therefore, she would take exquisite care of herself: omega--3s, mammograms, the occasional green juice.
•Therefore, she would kiss her daughters good night and tell them she loved them even on days that they infuriated her or left their dirty clothes on the bathroom floor and hair balls in the shower drain. All of which they did.
Eliza lifted her face to the sun and let the voices of the women around her fade into the background. Jodi was asking, “Whose phone is that?” Sheila was ranting, “Honestly, if they spend all summer bickering I’m going to hire two separate nannies and spend the whole summer by myself in Hyannis,” and Catherine was saying something about how Henry was incensed about the increase in docking fees at the club this year and how some people were starting to look elsewhere; didn’t the superior beings who ran the club know that they couldn’t just do that without any warning?—-some people did not have unlimited funds with which to dock their boats. Not that it was a problem for the Coopers, of course, but what if it was a problem for others?
Eliza breathed in, breathed out. Sun on her face on a June day. Drinks in the early afternoon, carrying with them a sensation of illicitness that made them taste even better, like the women were all teenagers, getting away with something while their parents had their heads turned the other way. Cosseted offspring splashing gleefully about in the safe confines of the yacht club pool, slathered in expensive sunscreen, clad in swimsuits that ranged from adorable (Evie, rocking a mini Boden one--piece with age--appropriate polka dots) to borderline tasteless (Jackie Rackley, also thirteen, in a bikini that looked ready for Copacabana). Who would have thought that this, any of this, was what the future held for a lobsterman’s daughter?
Eliza didn’t want to open her eyes, because if she did, if she caught the glance of Jodi or Catherine or Sheila, one of them might whisper aloud what Eliza was sure they all thought of her secretly. Interloper, they’d say. You don’t belong here.
That was something she’d been feeling lately a lot more than usual, and for that she blamed Phineas Tarbox. A ridiculous name, Phineas Tarbox. An actual Boston Brahmin, the real deal. His office was on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston’s Back Bay, not far from Judith’s home. Judith was Eliza’s mother--in--law. In fact, Phineas had been recommended by Judith, of course, like many things in their lives were. Judith was the unseen conductor of their orchestra, always calmly moving her baton.
It was after their visit to Phineas Tarbox that Eliza felt something dark, almost sinister, creep into her marriage. An unwelcome guest. It wasn’t just that Rob was busy and distracted with a big work project, often too tired at the end of the day to do anything but fall into bed, although that was true, or that the girls gobbled up time and energy from both of them, which was also true, and expected. It was something more. It was that sometimes she looked at him, this man she’d been married to for so many years, this man whose body was so familiar to her that she’d recognize even the crease of his elbow if shown a photograph of only that, and she saw a stranger.
“Eliza!” said Sheila. “Wake up, that’s your phone that’s been ringing this whole time.”
“What? Oh. Oh geez, sorry.” Eliza scanned the pool again, located Evie, who was following Zoe around like a pup tracking its mother, and dug in her mammoth pool bag for her phone. A Maine area code. Only her father called her from Maine, and this wasn’t his number on the caller ID.
“This is Eliza.” The voice on the other end was familiar in a way that seemed thrice removed from her ordinary life.
“Liza, it’s Russell.”
Something somersaulted—-one of her organs. Could organs somersault? Many years ago, Eliza had completed two years of medical school at Boston University, so she knew that they couldn’t. Not that you really needed the medical training to know that.
“Russell Perkins?” She had to get up from her lounge chair and walk away to shield herself from the other women, who had fallen silent, sensing from Eliza’s tone, both voice and skin, that something dramatic was about to happen. Or, maybe, had already happened.
“That’s the one,” said Russell Perkins, Eliza Barnes’s first love, her knight in shining armor, the Bruce Springsteen to her Mary. Zillions of memories flooded her: a pickup truck, a barn in winter, half of her clothes off, new desire. A nearly deserted island in summer, the inside of a car, a room in Bangor. She was sixteen again, seventeen, eighteen, all in a matter of seconds.
She glanced back at the women, who had returned to their conversation but were stealing occasional tastefully curious glances at Eliza, glances that said both We are here for you if you need us and Are we missing something good?
“Listen, Liza, you might want to get yourself up to Little Harbor just as quick as you can.”
Ohmygod, thought Eliza. Her legs almost gave out and she had to lean against the fence that enclosed the pool. It was happening. Her dad was gone. He’d been pulled overboard by a trap. He’d had a heart attack, or a stroke, or a fight that went wrong. He’d rolled his truck over on the way home from the bar. It was bound to happen, each of those evil creatures was waiting in the wings to lay their pronged teeth into Charlie Sargent’s skin. Hazards of the job, of the lifestyle, the pay grade.
All those years they spent together, just the two of them, leaning on each other. All those chicken cutlet dinners she’d prepared, and now he was gone. She was officially an orphan.
Could you be a thirty--seven--year--old orphan?
She croaked out something that tried to be a word but didn’t make it.
“Your dad hit his head on the boat this morning, the Coast Guard had to go out and bring him back in. Val took him to the emergency room, his arm was hurt too.”
“He called the Coast Guard?” Her dad would never call the Coast Guard, not unless it was a very serious emergency. She italicized the words in her mind because that’s the way her dad always said them to her. You take care of things yourself unless it’s a very serious emergency, Eliza.
“He won’t let anyone help him. He’d never tell you himself that he needs you, so I’m telling you. He needs you.”
Eliza recalculated. She wasn’t a thirty--seven--year--old orphan. She wasn’t an orphan at all. But her dad needed her. She turned back toward the lounge chairs. She could see that Sheila Rackley was finally completing her story and that it had been a doozy. Deirdre had her hand over her mouth, and her narrow, bronzed shoulders were shaking with laughter. Even Catherine Cooper, who was a tough audience, was smiling.
“Liza?” said Russell, and her stomach twisted again in that unsettling way. Nobody else called her Liza.
“Okay,” she said. She cleared her throat. She turned toward the pool and saw Zoe standing at the edge of the diving board. She felt the same urge she always felt, to call out Don’t jump! because bad things could happen on diving boards and she wanted to protect her children from every possible danger. She fought the same impulse each time she watched them buckle themselves into the backseat of a friend’s car and wave at her nonchalantly. Don’t go! she always wanted to say. Stay here with me, where you’ll be safe! The world was full of untold menaces.
Zoe executed a perfect swan dive, which had been honed by hours of practice and the assistance of a personal dive coach. Eliza knew that was ridiculous. Yet because of the coaching the dive was gorgeous. Eliza kept her eyes on the water until Zoe’s head popped up (because you never knew) and felt the odd combination of pride and wonderment she often felt watching her daughters. It was almost envy, although she’d never say that out loud, because that was embarrassing. The things they knew how to do, the professional instruction they’d received in their young lives! Skiing, tennis, sailing—-pastimes that had been so far off Eliza’s radar when she was a child that she had thought only kids in movies engaged in them.
“Okay,” she said again. “Okay, I’ll get up there as soon as I can. I just have to figure out a couple of things, make some arrangements for Zoe and Evie. For my daughters.”
When Eliza was Zoe’s age all she knew how to do was row a skiff from the wharf to her dad’s boat, the Joanie B, named after Eliza’s mother, and how to use the gauge to measure the lobsters, and how to V--notch the pregnant females. She could also crack a lobster like nobody’s business, pull every scrap of meat out, wasting not even a fraction of an ounce. Not exactly a useful skill set in Barton, although once, admittedly, at a midsummer yacht club clambake she’d had one too many gin and tonics and had made the rounds with her double--jaw lobster crackers, allowing herself to be timed by Deirdre’s husband, Brock. (In her defense, the gin and tonics at the club were very strong.)
“Okay? Thank you for calling, Russell. Thank you, really.” Her organs did that strange gymnastics again.
Last she knew of Russell he’d moved up to Bangor and was training to go into sales. Life insurance, or something equally necessary and staid. Life insurance! Russell Perkins, one of the best lobstermen Little Harbor had ever seen. It was outrageous. Must be that that hadn’t stuck, that he’d come back. The good ones always came back. They couldn’t really figure out any other way to live—-they didn’t want to.
Eliza stood for a moment holding the phone. She wasn’t sure what to do next, call the children over to her, or go back to her bag, to start getting her things organized, or call Rob, who she knew was in the middle of a meeting with his client, the indomitable Mrs. Cabot.
Eliza was for a moment quite paralyzed. Fresh Bloody Marys had arrived at the table, and Deirdre brought one to Eliza, first putting it into her hand, and then closing Eliza’s fingers around the plastic cup. “You look like you saw a ghost,” said Deirdre.
“I did, sort of,” whispered Eliza. “Thank you, Deirdre.” Her father, who never needed anyone, needed her. Russell Perkins, who never called her, had called her. If she left in an hour she’d be in Little Harbor before sunset. Cue the Springsteen. There were ghosts in the eyes of all the boys you sent away. Eliza tipped the cup back; she downed the whole drink in three gulps.
Little Harbor, Maine
Zoe had called Eliza twice when she was going through New Hampshire, where cell phone use while driving was not allowed. Then Zoe had texted her twice but Eliza had been disciplined and had not looked at her phone, thinking of a very effective campaign she’d recently seen in the supermarket that featured a driving texter failing to see two elderly people crossing the road.
The third time Zoe called Eliza was passing through Ellsworth. Three teens from Ellsworth had died on this road when Eliza was in high school—-for the longest time there had been three wooden crosses there, adorned with flowers, teddy bears, bright strings of beads. Now Eliza slowed significantly on the curves, centering her car—-Rob’s car; she’d left hers behind for kid--related reasons—-exactly between the yellow lines and the edge of the road.
Once she had passed the danger zone outside of Ellsworth she called Zoe back. She listened to her for a while and then said, “Oh, sweetie.”
Jackie Rackley had started doing extremely enviable things with certain friends and posting the photos on Instagram and then tagging other girls who weren’t included. Just to hit them over the head with their un--includedness. (Zoe had had to explain this to Eliza twice.)
“All this happened in the last four hours? I’m perplexed. We were just with Jackie this afternoon.” Maybe, thought Eliza, most friendships had an element of treachery to them—-grown-ups were just better at hiding it.
“No,” said Zoe. “The pictures were taken at different times. She’s just posting them now.”
“It’s okay to be upset,” said Eliza carefully. She had read that you were supposed to validate your kids’ shifting emotions as they were growing, so they would continue to confide in you.
“I’m not upset,” said Zoe. “I’m mad. She’s being a jerk.” If this had been Evie it would have been a waterworks show, but Zoe wasn’t crying. She never cried. She snarled. She snorted. She seethed. Sometimes she raged. But she didn’t cry. Even as a young child she’d borne insults and injury stoically, blinking hard and going internal. This was probably unhealthy, but Eliza didn’t know how to change it. You couldn’t force someone to cry, could you?
Even so. If Eliza could have, she would have turned the car around, driven back to Barton, parked in the Rackleys’ driveway, rung the doorbell, and unleashed a bucketful of venom on Jackie. For many obvious reasons, that wasn’t practical. But also. You had to be so careful with teenagers. Your children wanted you to save them. Or they didn’t want you involved at all. They wanted you to tell everyone. Or they’d die if you told anyone.
Because she was nearing Little Harbor, Eliza opted for a practical, efficient approach: “Do you want me to talk to her mother?”
“No! No, do not do that. You have to promise me you won’t do that.”
“I won’t,” said Eliza. “I promise. But you really can’t waste any mental energy on it. You’re a smart girl, you don’t need friends who would do something like that.”
“She’s not my friend,” Zoe snarled.
“Exactly!” said Eliza. “You know who your real friends are, and they don’t treat you this way.”
“That’s not the problem.”
“So what’s the problem?”
“The problem is that now everyone who follows me can see that I wasn’t included. And I can see that I wasn’t included. That’s the problem. It sucks.”
When Zoe was born and had finally stopped screaming like a fisher cat (she hadn’t had a problem crying that day) long enough for Eliza to breast-feed for the first time, the careworn nurse had said, “Here’s your daughter.” Ah, thought Eliza. Lovely. And then the nurse had said, “I’ve got four of them. Good luck!” Eliza had looked at her newborn little girl and thought, Maybe you needed the luck, Nurse Whoever--You--Are, but I have good sense on my side. Then, after some sustained effort, Zoe had latched on for her very first meal. She’d been so small and fragile (she’d been born almost four weeks early), Eliza had felt like she was holding a collection of raw eggs.
Eliza wanted to knock the teeth out of the world that had turned that trusting, slurping little thing into a girl left out of someone’s stupid In-stagram post.
“Zoe, sweetie? I’ll call you soon. For now, go do something! Get your mind off of it. I promise Jackie Rackley isn’t worth an ounce of your anything.”
“What should I do?”
“Ride your bike!”
“You always say that. Riding your bike is your solution to everything.”
Eliza did always say that; she loved bike riding. “That’s because fresh air and exercise clear your head.”
“Fine,” said Zoe. “I’ll ride my bike.”
“Wear your helmet,” said Eliza, and at the exact same time Zoe said, “I know. Wear my helmet.”
“I’ll call you soon, little bunny. I love you.”
“I’m not a little bunny,” said Zoe. And then, maybe reluctantly but then again maybe not: “I love you too.”
Eliza hung up the phone the exact second she crested the last hill and the harbor opened up before her. She gasped the same way she always did. It was so beautiful, it really did take her breath away, the craggy shoreline, the stands of pine, the gray--blue water. To the right, she knew, just out of view, was the wharf, and off to the side, all of the lobster boats rocking on their moorings. If they were in for the night. Would they be in? She checked the clock on the dashboard: six thirty, yes, they’d all be in. She opened her window and took a deep, cleansing breath. Even the air felt different here: unadulterated and pure, like air from biblical times.
She pulled over, for just a minute, and got out of the car. When Eliza had first brought Rob to Little Harbor she’d stopped the car here and made him get out just like this and she’d said, “Breathe. Breathe.” Rob had breathed, and then he’d looked at Eliza like she was a teacher and he was a student afraid of getting the answer wrong, and then he’d said, “Yes!” although she never really knew if he was pretending or not. Not that she’d blame him if he were: Rob was from away, and there were certain things you just didn’t know if you were from away. Such as: what the sky looks like when the boats go steaming out at dawn, a bright white ball just above the waterline, and around it a yellow glow like a halo, the sky going from black to gray to orange in just a blink.
You didn’t know the way the town feels before the first set of the season, the whole place lit up from within. That Christmas Eve shiver, when you’re waiting to see what’s going to get brought to you. You didn’t know what a boat looks like setting out with a full load of traps stacked six high and six across; you didn’t know what it was like to see a little boy of seven or eight, sitting on top of a pile of his daddy’s traps, grinning like there was no tomorrow, wondering how long it would be before he’d grow into a big strong man too. You didn’t know the way you can look at a man who’s been out on the water his whole life and see nearly every trap he’s hauled and every line he’s tossed over just in the set of his eyes, the pleats in his face.
At Brown, in her freshman composition course, Eliza had described her hometown as “a tight knot on the edge of the Atlantic—an angry little knuckle.” Beautiful! the teaching assistant had scribbled in the margins. So vivid! “An angry little knuckle,” indeed. What a pretentious college freshman she’d been. Luckily she’d abandoned the writing when she’d decided to go to medical school. Although she’d always thought she might have liked law school too.
Excerpted from "The Captain's Daughter"
Copyright © 2018 Meg Mitchell Moore.
Excerpted by permission of Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This was an entertaining read of adults with children rehashing their lives and wondering if they made a mistake in their earlier choices in life. The book deals with marriage, children, parents, ailing parents, and what could have been as well as dealing with issues on a daily basis in their lives. I enjoyed reading this book. Thanks to Doubleday Books and Net Galley for providing me with a free e-galley in exchange for an honest, unbiased review.