- by Carol Standish
Linda Greenlaw, commercial swordboat captain for 17 years, author of The Hungry Ocean (review), a riveting account of that unique career, has now written The Lobster Chronicles, Life on a Very Small Island (Hyperion, $22.95, 238pp). After retiring from sword fishing, Greenlaw moved in with her parents who live on Isle au Haut, Maine, and began her second fishing career, lobstering. Her second book focuses on island life and the frustrations of her first lobstering season.
Her first book testifies to Greenlaw’s courage and frankness, her more than adequate writing abilities and her story telling talent. In Chronicles most of those attributes remain obvious and pleasurable. Part of the problem is that island life, peppered with eccentric characters and interpersonal frictions as it may be, simply lacks the intensity of captaining a 100’ seagoing mechanical workhorse and a five man crew in 21 hour shifts out in the middle of the North Atlantic for 30 days at a crack and bringing home the quarry in record-breaking tons. What could equal that story?
The Hungry Ocean was a story of achievement. The Lobster Chronicles is a story of beginnings. Saying they shouldn’t be compared doesn’t mean they won’t be. As in her first book, Greenlaw’s prose is a no-nonsense, un-puffed-up reportorial style, easy to read and appropriate to the content. Expressions of her appreciation of working on the ocean often approach the poetic, “I loved the sound of the lobsters’ shells’ muffled applause as the clapped against themselves and one another in the end of a trap fresh from the water. A full trap sounded like a standing ovation.” Rock solid island personalities are sensitively portrayed. “Payson [Barter] is the Island’s top lobster producer. The key to his success is common knowledge and is printed across the stern of his new boat for all to see: Perseverance…I saw [her] in the distance, keeping her usual slow and steady pace. Payson never dashed around making noise and commotion.”
Although Greenlaw recognizes what makes a “highliner” and has experienced extraordinary success herself—as a swordfisherman. As a sword-boat captain, she is mature, masterful and far-seeing. But she is green as a lobsterfisherman. As she reports her performance in a lackluster season, she portrays herself as frustrated and discouraged and uncharacteristically cranky. At the bottom of another learning ladder she lacks the sure-footed competence and authority we all reveled in (but she misses the most).
In the epilogue Greenlaw admits, “My life is now one big loose end.” The phrase also characterizes the book itself. Publication of The Lobster Chronicles seems premature (no doubt the publisher’s bottom-line driven decision) but it is, nevertheless, well-written and entertaining as far as it goes. However, there will be even greater literary pleasures in store for Linda Greenlaw fans as soon as she ties up a few of those loose ends. Moving almost on shore takes some getting used to and as every fisherman knows, timing is everything.