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“"Somebody once said, 'True love is like ghosts, which everybody talks about and few have seen.' I've seen both, and I don't know how to tell which is worse."
This is the opening statement in the best book I've read all year. More Than You Know by Beth Gutcheon is a captivating and altogether different sort of story. It is a novel of alternating narratives, set a century apart, raising the level of suspense as the characters in each period approach monumental turning points in their lives, in parallel events which will define the future for all.
The novel is essentially two stories of doomed love and its consequences for future generations. Narrator Hannah Gray is an elderly widow when she relates the circumstances of the summer when she fell in love with Conary Crocker, a charming young man from a poor family in Dundee on the coast of Maine. Brought to Dundee from Boston during the Depression by her abusive stepmother, Hannah learns about the fate of distant ancestral relatives of hers and Conary's, who lived on now-deserted Beal Island in the mid 1800s.
The reader learns the horrifying details in the same small increments that Hannah does, via the alternating point of view of Claris Osgood, who in 1858 defies her parents and marries taciturn Danial Haskell, moving with him to the island where, too late, she discovers her new husband's narrow-minded religious fundamentalism and mean-spirited personality. Their marriage, which produces two children, becomes increasingly rancorous and will end in murder. Meanwhile, in her own time, Hannah is terrified by the appearances of a wildly sobbing ghost with "gruesome burning eyes," who exudes an almost palpable hatred. Tantalizing clues about the identity of the macabre specter, and the eventual tragedy it causes, hum through the narrative like a racing pulse.
Gutcheon adds depth and texture through lovely descriptions of the Maine coast and the authentic vernacular of its residents, whom she depicts with real knowledge of life in a seacoast community. Her vivid descriptions did for me what all good books should do for the reader: they swept me away, and made me anxious to visit.
I adore books about small town life. Gutcheon introduced me to her characters and throughout her stories, I grew to know them and truly fell in love. They are intelligently depicted and appealing and I loved the names: Conary Crocker, Bowdoin Leach, Nella B., Claris Osgood, Mercy Chatto, Miss. Leaf, Kermit Horton - such wonderful names!
Did you ever have the feeling after reading a book, that it was following you everywhere you went? I have not been able to stop thinking about the characters of More Than You Know since I finished it. I continue even now to think of the different pieces of the story, and to make new connections between them.
This book has it all: love, hate, murder, hauntings, adventure, history - it was dramatic and chilling, a true modern Gothic classic. Once began, I could not put it down, and I recommend it highly to anyone.”
Susan wrote this review Friday, October 3, 2008.