The Northern Reach by W.S. Winslow
Published by Flatiron Books
Publication date: March 2, 2021
Genres: Book Clubs, Debut, Fiction, Literary
Another Monday and I’m back with a second 5-star fabulous book. W. S. Winslow’s debut novel, The Northern Reach, is a compact novel, set on the northern coast of Maine in the kind of small towns that depend on summer vacationers and fishing for their survival. What begins with one mother mired in grief over a son lost at sea ebbs and flows over three generations of families as lodged into the veins of Maine as the granite on its shores.
Edith’s husband and two sons went out fishing and only one son came back. This fate epitomizes The Northern Reach’s trajectory. Through marriage and unplanned pregnancies four separate families begin intertwining their lives in the 1900s. Lawsons marry into Moodys marry into Martins marry into Baines and back again. New blood is brought in, as when Mason Baines marries a French woman he met after WWII, but mostly, the circle shrinks.
Winslow extracts sublime stories from each generation, many when they’re coming to an end, like Imelda Martin, in the last stages of breast cancer, who’s not going to let the local police stop her fun. Or Victoria Moody, her niece, who’s escaped the Northern Reach for the big city of Bangor and is set to marry a nice Italian Catholic. All she has to do is keep her fiancé away from her father’s funeral and her relatives, one of whom has kindly tucked a can of Colt 45 and a porn magazine into the open casket.
As addictive as the content of The Northern Reach is, it’s Winslow’s piercing prose that ensnared me. This sentence on page four:
This is winter’s waking death: half-light, refracted by grey water and dirty snow, begging the voracious dark to end its misery.
hooked me. This is using words as they’re meant to be used. Tossing them together without scrambling, off-handedly dropping them on the page for maximum impact. Combined with a dry, often morbid wit, the result is sublime reading. That Winslow also gracefully manages a lot of movement in a condensed space is no small achievement. She includes diagrams for the novel’s segments, but I’d still suggest not getting hung up on the family tree. These flinty stories and connections stand on their own. It may only be March, but The Northern Reach is on track to be one of my favorite books of 2021.
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*I received a free copy of this book from Flatiron Books in exchange for an honest review.*