A long and ponderous tale by Coomer (One Vacant Chair, 2003) follows the hollowing career trajectory of an artist and former Bennington student who returns to roost on her family’s isolated Maine island.
A stray dog washes ashore Ten Acre No Nine Island like driftwood and becomes the metaphor for Hannah Bryant’s forsaken existence on the island she inherited from her great-uncle, lobsterman Arno Weed. Growing up an orphan, she worked with her uncle as a sternman over several summers before abandoning the fisherman’s life for the big city, where she became an artist whose work sold and supported her. With the death of Uncle Arno, whom she learns also ran a drug business in amphetamines on the side, she returns to the island, hoping to live and paint in complete isolation. Not to be, however, when the dog and then people start showing up: first, a teenager named Will, seeking refuge from his abusive father in Texas, where the boy is a student of Hannah’s half-sister, Emily, who has joined a religious order. At 17, bright and helpful, Will becomes Hannah’s surrogate son and lives harmoniously with her for nearly a year before he goes to college. Then Emily arrives, pregnant from Will’s manipulative father, depressed and fearful that the evil parent will appear at any moment to wreak vengeance. The local pesky Beal family, daughter, father and grandfather, intrude as well. The greater world, further, keeps trespassing on Hannah in the form of news that her uncle kept a trust that essentially bought up all her painting, so that her life as an independent artist is proven a falsehood and she must come up with another way to live. Within pages and pages of rambling dialogue, Coomer demonstrates stylish moves in a reflective story that seems to take place over generations—while only a year of action essentially passed.
A lot of wind and little action on Hannah’s island.