In Clement’s (This Old House, 2011) novel, disparate characters’ lives intersect at a friendly neighborhood bar in Portland, Maine.
“When you’re weary, feeling small / When tears are in your eyes, I will dry them all”: so goes the Simon & Garfunkel classic “Bridge over Troubled Water.” These lines seem to apply to Sean, a lively young businessman and lifetime Mainer whose plans for a vibrant life with his wife, Stella, are cut short when he loses his legs in a hit-and-run. However, he still derives a measure of comfort from his bar, Troubled Waters, in the Old Port section of Portland, which he operates with his business partner, Jacob Morrison. Their 23-year-old waitress, simply named Elvis, has an intriguing back story of her own that’s slowly teased out over the course of the novel. At Troubled Waters, it seems that everybody knows your name—but scratch the veneer of the Cheers-like atmosphere and one finds a hint of menace lurking in the form of bar regular Quentin T. Spence, a troubled academic whose unbridled lust has disturbing consequences. Clement astutely observes each character’s back story, even if Elvis and Quentin get the lion’s share of the spotlight, and the crisp prose is tinged with just the right amount of suspense and intrigue. Despite the careful execution, however, these individual elements stop short of seamlessly combining into a larger tapestry. The novel doesn’t clearly establish the different characters’ interconnectedness before going off on various plot tangents. For example, the story starts by focusing on Sean’s troubles but before long, he’s just part of the scenery when the action shifts completely to Elvis and, later, Quentin’s skin-crawling behavior. After a few more detours, the novel becomes a slickly executed police procedural, but it’s not quite clear whether that’s what the author—and readers—signed up for.
A sharply written seaside story that could have had more wind in its sails, had it relied on better navigation charts.