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I knew it was a collection of short stories all revolving around the same town, but when I turned to the last page of chapter "Shuffle, Step" I was so disappointed the stories were ending! Each chapter is a delightful discovery of various people from Abbott Falls, Maine. The book reminded me somewhat of "Empire Falls" by Richard Russo, because of the Maine setting in a mill-town. Ernie's Ark is however, much better without being less profound. Besides Ernie, the ark builder, you meet Marie, James, Francine, Kenny and others who intersect one another. The layers of meaning are subtle, so you can indulge in them or not and still enjoy the stories. It's a great book club selection and my copy had a reader's guide at the end!
This is a perfect book. If not the Great American Novel, then we can call it the Great New England Novel. Funny thing is, it's not so much a novel as a group of interconnected short stories about a group of interconnected people, living in a small Maine town heavy with the weight of a year-long labor strike. When I first realized these were individual stories I was a little bummed out, because the first story was so, so good: a man months from retirement spends his days caring for, and worrying over, his dying wife. When she urges him to enter an "art" contest he sets to work on a life-sized Noah's ark. Not know if the next story was even connected, I read on, following the story of a man reeling from seeing his younger brother cross the picket line. He was a minor character in the previous story with Ernie. Another story is about this man's ex-wife, this woman's new husband, his daughter, even the owner of the plant where the strike is occurring. On and on. Everyone is connected, and everyone's life in this small Maine town touches everyone else's in some way. With every story I finished I wondered if the next chapter (not long into the book you stop thinking of these as separate stories) could be as good, the characters as real and multi-dimensional as the one I just finished. And they are. Consistently great, clean, beautiful writing throughout. Ernie's Ark is a gorgeous novel about the meaning of life, the beauty of the mundane, the quiet, day-to-day events that make up our lives and define who we are - especially for the people in this small town. It's a perfect New England read.
ERNIE'S ARK is an astounding book. This collection, like the ark of the title story, is built one piece at a time, one story on top of the last, until the reader is left with a magnificent monument to its characters. Set in the town of Abbott Falls, Maine, during a lengthy labor strike, the stories focus on those struggling to make connections with their loved ones during difficult times. In the title story, Ernie, a striking pipefitter who was days from retirement when the strike began, tends to his dying wife, Marie. In an uncharacteristic moment of artistic vision, he begins to build what he calls an "installment", a large ark in his backyard that gives him hope during a time when he should have none. In my personal favorite, "That One Autumn." Marie, on her deathbed, reflects on a frightening incident that solidified her marriage and which now allows her to leave it, loved. "The Temperature of Desire" explores the grief of the union man Danny when his beloved younger brother crosses the picket line. "Solidarity Is Not a Floor" follows Francine, the eighth grade daughter of an errant father and professor, who loses her right to an honor because hers is not a union family. When events take an unexpected turn, Francine is given a glimpse into the adult world, thus giving her the strength to confront her father. Wood explores lives that touch each other, sometimes briefly, introducing the main character of each story as a cameo role in a preceding one. These stories are about making human connections, about love and confusion, about betrayal and faith. Taken separately, the stories would be admirable, but together they acquire an ever increasing power that resonates long after the reading. I can't recommend this collection highly enough. I became a fan of Monica Wood's work when I read MY ONLY STORY, but this collection of stories, both heartbreaking and triumphant, shows the maturing talents of a writer just now hitting her stride.
Ernie and the other people living in this small town in Maine are brought to life with insight and humor. The book was recommended to me. I recommend it to you. It is a series, nine, I think, of interlocking short stories. A minor or secondary character in one story gets his own story and perspective on life in another. You, as the omniscient refer know more than any one character. You see the bigger picture. It is short story conciseness with big novel character development. If you enjoyed Olive Kitteridge, you should love Ernie.
--I have reviewed this author on GoodReads and some of the following comes from that review.... In 1988 I read a short story ("Wish") by Monica Wood, published in the Yankee Magazine. For many years I couldn't find any more examples of her writing and eventually gave up looking for any. It was with pleasure that I "re-discovered" her these years later on the recommendation of a friend. I was delighted to find that her writing style has, as I always expected, matured into something wonderful. Magical, even. The collection of characters in these stories and the author's analyses and treatment of them fleshes out the overall theme of loss and redemption in a rural Maine Mill town. Ms Wood's prose is evocative of a time we'll never see again, of small-town industry, self-reliance and mutual acceptance and respect. Perhaps one of the reasons that her prose resonates with me is that I lived those times in Maine myself, I do remember them and I believe that she has captured the pulse of them accurately.
Yes, Ernie may be an angry guy but oh, the love he has for his wife! You can see that love from the beginning of the story when it tells of how he daily leaves the arts section of the newspaper beside her coffee, because he knows she loves the arts. Just weeks before he is due to retire, the paper mill goes on strike and his wife is sick.
Dan Little and his family worked at the mill where their brother Tim is a scab along with the Blake brothers and others. The strikers are angry. Why Tim crossed the picket line is anyone's guess. He's dubbed "Superscab" and his truck has been vandalized.
Henry, the mill's CEO doesn't know how to connect with his daughter Emily. She's having a difficult time dealing with her mother's death and he can't think of the right thing to say and do to be a father. The picketers see them outside the gate sitting in Henry's fancy Mercedes with Emily at the wheel and move as one, wielding baseball bats.
A close-knit family collapses. A blended family experiences friction.
While most of the book was quite enjoyable and difficult to put down, the ending - well, it just ended, with most things left unresolved. That was quite a disappointment. What surely would have been more stars given, because of the unresolved issues, I just couldn't do it. Bummer.
A very well-written collection of inter-connected stories set in a small milltown in Maine. The paper mill is on strike, disrupting lives and family loyalties. Change is inevitable, and the stories detail how individuals react and adjust to it. One of the characters in particular, Francine, made me ache for her. Early teens, out of place in all places, shunned by her peers and overlooked by most adults, yet sweet-tempered and ever hopeful. And then there's Ernie - who builds an ark for his dying wife - that's right, an ark. The more I think about the stories, the more I realize how well-drawn the characters are. The town may be in trouble, but it wouldn't be a bad place to live.
Monica Wood is a New England gem. If you loved "When We Were the Kennedy's", you will love this. After seeing her play, "Papermaker", an adaptation of "Ernie's Ark", I wanted to read more about the characters. Wow! I put this up there with my all time favorite reads. Each chapter is about one character, and they all intertwine to create this fabulous story. Give it a try...you will not be disappointed!
Intertwined stories of love, faith, disappointment, sorrow and surprising happiness. Beautifully written and a well crafted effort such as is written all too infrequently in our "reality" oriented world. We forget that life does not always happen at breakneck speed, but more often at a heartbreakingly slow pace that can still leave us breathless. Loved it!
The one bad thing about reading a Kindle book is sometimes you're surprised when a book ends. That was the case with Ernie's Ark. All of a sudden it ended. Aack! I loved it! I wanted to read more. It didn't really leave anything hanging, but it's the type of book you can keep going with. Each chapter deals with a different person in this town--all connected, and I just wanted to keep reading about it, is all.