Sunday, August 23, 2009

Stern Men

I hadn't planned on blogging about Elizabeth Gilbert's early novel Stern Men, which I read over the summer while in Maine. But this morning the Sunday New York Times is featuring a front-page article on the lobster wars in Matinicus, Maine, and I was reminded about how much I enjoyed the book and Maine itself. The lobster industry up there is FASCINATING. Gilbert's book about two small Maine islands at war for decades over lobster territory is also fascinating, although I'm not sure I could have gotten through it without experiencing this whole Maine lobster phenomenon firsthand. It's all about territory and boundaries. Although anyone in Maine can get a license to trap lobsters, the territory has been staked out since lobsters existed. Each professional lobsterman can set up to 800 traps, but he (or she) had better do it in his territory. If encroachment occurs, buoys are cut, trap lines get knotted, or - worse - someone gets shot, which is what happened off Monhegan Island earlier this summer. See "In Maine, Tensions Over Ailing Lobster Industry" by Abby Goodnough for more details. I heard about this shooting on my cab ride from Owls Head to the Portland airport. The driver confirmed everything I had learned from Gilbert's novel and my short time on Owls Head, including the fact that tension over territory just comes with the lobster business. A lobsterman is either a pusher or a cutter (aggressively pushing into new territory or aggressively defending status quo). Here's a snippet from Gilbert's prologue on the subject:

"Lobsters do not recognize boundaries, and neither, therefore, can lobstermen. Lobstermen seek lobsters wherever those creatures may roam, and the this means lobstermen chase their prey all over the shallow sea and the cold-water coastline. This means lobstermen are constantly competing with one another for good fishing territory. They get in each other's way, tangle each other's trap lines, spy on each other's boats, and steal each other's information. Lobstermen fight over every cubic yard of the sea. Every lobster one man catches is a lobster another man has lost. It is a mean business, and it makes for mean men. As humans, after all, we become that which we seek. Dairy farming makes men stable and steady and reliable and temperate; deer hunting makes men quiet and fast and sensitive; lobster fishing makes men suspicious and wily and ruthless" (5).

Obviously there is some generalizing here, but I don't think anyone would deny that lobstering is a hard, tough, rough life. Definitely makes for good plot in her a novel.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

When not reading...

Mad Men is my new favorite show (and everyone else's old favorite), just barely edging out HBO's The Wire. The Wire deserves its own blog entry - one of these days! A friend and I were recently calling it The Moby Dick of television. Mad Men is something else entirely. I'll have to think of a good literary parallel; but in the meantime, read "Mad Men Crashes Woodstock's Party by New York Times columnist Frank Rich to get the gist.

Season Three starts tonight! 9 p.m. Tennessee time