A Prohibition-era story of family passions and intemperance.
In her second outing, Tripp (Moon Tide, 2003) returns to the beachfront town of South Westport, Mass., to explore the lives of Noel, an old seaman, his daughter Cora, and his two granddaughters, Luce and Bridge, who’ve been brought up fatherless, are poor, tough and devoted to each other. Luce works at the icehouse, and Bridge, still a tomboy, bangs nails and works with her grandfather repairing his boats. It’s a hardscrabble but also rather sleepy sort of life, punctuated by trips to town for canned oysters and Grange Hall dinners. Yet violence also lurks around the small town’s edges. Despite the booming stock market and the influx of summer people, the locals are sucked in by the lure of quick money in the liquor-smuggling business. Bridge and Luce’s cousin Asa was recently killed in the crossfire. In short, impressionistic chapters, Tripp sets her plot in motion: Luce, impatient with his icehouse job, decides to take mooncusser work from the local liquor mobs, while Bridge becomes fascinated with a strange but compelling former doctor, Henry Vonniker—and wonders whether to risk an affair with him. Meanwhile, Noel, the former whaler, decides to play the stock market. As Luce sinks deeper into his rum-running, and Bridge takes up with Henry, an old closeness between sisters grows strained. There’s a central metaphor in here somewhere about the highs and lows of seasons of risk, one that draws links between whaling, moonshining and stock speculating. While there’s a nice rhythm to the well-researched languages of whaling and liquor smuggling, there’s also a way that the hazy chapters—and characters—don’t seem quite harnessed to one another, so the story never really seems to catch. When some violence erupts near the close, it feels a bit arbitrary, and the lyric, meandering tale grinds to a halt.
Still, pleasant language in a better-than-average beachfront read.