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The secrets and shadows of small town success – ‘The Midcoast’

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One of the joys of living in Maine is the wide array of environments you can enjoy. There’s the ocean, of course. There are mountains and forests. Lovely cities and idyllic small towns. Cold winters and warm summers. Few places run the gamut like the state of Maine.

That variety of place is reflected in the types of stories told about the place. We’ve got the Master of Horror, of course – hi, Mr. King! – but storytellers embrace all manner of genres, using the assortment of settings to bring to life literary fiction, sci-fi, mysteries, thrillers … the list goes on and on.

Every once in a while, though, you get a book that marries setting, style and story via that Maine lens that just clicks.

That’s what Adam White has done with his debut novel “The Midcoast” (Hogarth, $27), a crime drama that offers up a compelling story while also exploring the definitions of success in a small town. It is a taut, sharp thriller – one that balances the stressors of its storyline with the underlying laconicism that marks life on Maine’s coast.

It’s well-crafted and propulsive, a fast read that sweeps the reader along into its wake, pulling us into the disparate lives of the characters at its center.

Andrew has recently returned to his hometown of Damariscotta; he teaches English and coaches lacrosse at the high school. He was away long enough for some things to change, even at the often-glacial pace that marks many small coastal Maine towns. Some of the changes could have been anticipated, but one that Andrew never saw coming was the success of Ed Thatch.

Ed and Andrew knew one another back in the day – Andrew worked at the lobster pound owned by Ed’s family – but while Andrew headed off to college and out into the world, Ed remained behind. Andrew’s expectation – and likely the expectation of everybody else in town – was that Ed would settle into the hardworking life of a lobsterman.

Instead, Andrew finds Ed and Stephanie Thatch living large as small-town royalty. They have a massive compound with a coastal view. They have become pillars of the community, both financially and socially. And their daughter Allie has a shot at playing lacrosse for Amherst. In fact, that’s where we first meet everyone, at a reception for Amherst lacrosse hosted by Ed and Stephanie at their home.

But as is often the case in small towns, there is more to the story. A LOT more.

Andrew is the one who learns more than he should about things that Ed would rather he didn’t. And even as we work our way back through the story of Andrew’s reconnection with his old acquaintance, various bits of the story stand out as … odd. Something is missing from the big picture, and that something might go a long way to explaining just what Ed Thatch has done to reach the top … and what he has done to stay there.

“The Midcoast” would be a perfectly acceptable thriller no matter the setting – White’s a good writer and that talent is on full display throughout – but it is that setting that pushes this book to another level. There’s something undeniably compelling about small-town noir, an energy that makes it unlike anything else you might read. However, too many authors don’t fully grasp the fundamental nature of small towns, leaving the reader to navigate an ill-defined physical and socioeconomic landscape.

Not so here. White knows this place – he’s from Damariscotta originally – and you can absolutely tell. His familiarity with his setting informs every aspect of his storytelling, lending the whole experience an inherent verisimilitude that only serves to enhance the other aspects of the book. That gentle whiff of autobiography is welcome, informative without ever being overwhelming.

The characters, for instance. While any reader should find engagement with the people that populate “The Midcoast,” those who have experience with life in a small town – particularly the sort of small town with a seasonal/year-round dichotomy – will absolutely recognize many of the folks who live within the pages of this book. The old-timers, the left-and-returners, the grinders, the new money, the generational (both wealthy and non) … they’re all here, lending a feeling of robustness to the world in which we’re operating.

And of course, there is no lack of thrills. White spins things out in an interesting way, giving us a big reveal at the beginning and bringing us along as he works his way back through it all.

This is a book that understands the nature of striving, the desire to have more than those who came before and to provide still more to those that follow. It’s a story of the power – creative and destructive alike – that comes with ambition. And it looks at what it means to fight against the weight of history when everyone in town knows (or thinks they know) what you’re all about. All of it conveyed through a rock-solid crime drama.

“The Midcoast” is a lot like some of the boats it describes – sturdy and efficient and unflashy on the surface, only with an unexpected amount of shiny horsepower just beneath the hull. Adam White’s Damariscotta is a nice place to visit, and honestly? You might even want to live there.

Last modified on Wednesday, 06 July 2022 10:52

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