A fine, if at times over-focused, portrait of Massachusetts’ famed Cape and the islands that surround it, from travel writer
and naturalist Schneider (The Adirondacks, 1997).
Doubtless there will be plenty of Cape Codders who will take umbrage at so green an
incomer (Schneider has lived on the Vineyard for only a decade) claiming to know their territory well enough to write a history.
Umbrage and insularity are their birthright, of course. But Schneider pulls it off with aplomb, walking softly and ending his tale
in the19th century, with nary a Cronkite nor a Belushi in sight. Schneider draws out from historical documents a sturdy sense
of the place as the Wampanoags and Nauset people experienced it in the pre—Columbian era. Then came the Basques in pursuit
of cod, the kidnapper Gorges in pursuit of gold, and Bartholomew Gosnold in pursuit of sassafras for the syphilitics of
Europe—all bringing the disease and displacement that were to become the Indian’s lot. Schneider explains how to tell Pilgrim
from Puritan, how they fared in those first few cruel years, and what characterized their dealings with the natives. Whaling soon
came to dominate the local economy, and here Schneider gets bogged down in a minute retelling of the voyage of the whaling
ship Essex. Eventful as it was, so much detail throws the story out of balance, for one great pleasure of Schneider’s writing is
the braiding of incidentals that keeps the story nimble—sketches of freebooters named Coffin and monopolists named
Starbuck—and provides fast asides: Vineyarders looking down upon Nantucket as "a place known to be populated by
pink-trousered probable Republicans"; Nantucketers scorning Vineyarders who "wouldn’t think of loaning their private beach keys
to their own first born"; and all of them despairing of the Cape itself as a "lost cause."
For the most part, a tight and cruising historical narrative—a rich tale for so small a piece of property. (drawings, photos,
maps, not seen)