AN ISLAND OUT OF TIME by Tom Horton

AN ISLAND OUT OF TIME

A Memoir of Smith Island in the Chesapeake
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 A lush, intimate portrait of Smith Island, Chesapeake Bay, from Horton (Bay Country, 1987, etc.). With his wife and two children, Horton moved to the hamlet of Tylerton--population a little less than 100--on Smith Island in 1987. He was there to teach environmental education classes to schoolchildren, but he was really on a quest to plumb the spirit of the place, one that ``does not shout its virtues, but yields them only to probing and observation.'' Smith Island is classic Chesapeake material, its citizens harvesting the savory blue crab the bay surrenders in hundreds of millions of pounds each year. But the crab industry offers diminishing returns and is going the way of the now-defunct shad and rockfish fisheries, the towns on the island slowly dying. Horton gets to know the fisherfolk, people who understand ``the invisible, subaqueous Chesapeake . . . as well as a farmer knows the contours of his homeplace,'' maintain the last fleet of working sailcraft (Maryland law requires that only boats under sail dredge for oysters), and stalk terrapin in the off-season. These characters, some of them near-mythic in Smith Island lore, offer Horton the pearls of their experience (there are long swaths of first-person, Islander narrative), and he gorges on them: how the winds and tides move the blue crab about, where the terrapin hide, why the oyster beds have gone flat, how the island population manages. Gratifyingly, the island women get equal air time: describing the quicksilver art of picking crabmeat, the not-so-quicksilver art of giving birth aboard a storm-tossed vessel, how they shape both family life and community from impossibly rough circumstance. Horton is everywhere: taking the island doctor's testimony; marvelling at the island artist's tale; attentive to micro-dialects, sacred groves; tracking the seasons' shifts. ``There is a beauty and eloquence to their lives,'' says an off-island resident. The same could be said of this book. (Author tour)

Pub Date: June 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-393-03938-2
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1996




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