During my junior year in high school, we were required to read Sarah Orne Jewett‘s, The Country of the Pointed Firs. I remember that it was a “quiet” book, but I don’t remember much else about that reading of it. It must have struck a chord within me, though, because when I was putting together my list of 50 classics to read in 5 years for The Classics Club, I put it on my list. I’m so glad I did!
I bought both the book version and the audiobook so I could both read and listen at the same time. At first, the audiobook almost put me to sleep and I thought I wouldn’t be able to listen to that particular narrator. I was wrong. I’m so glad I listened to it because it was such an authentic reading of the book, Maine accent and all!
The Country of the Pointed Firs, written in 1896, is a series of stories, vignettes, of a small town on the coast of Maine. There isn’t much of a plot, but the vignettes are all interconnected stories of the inhabitants of the village. Through those interconnected lives, you get a real feeling for the tough gentleness of the villagers, the strength they share, and the struggles they faced with that climate and way of making a living from a rugged ocean. With her beautiful and honest language, Jewett captured a time gone past and created a deep sense of place.
I found the book very nostalgic, quite profound in its simplicity and direct storytelling. I was most moved by the story of the brokenhearted Joanna, abandoned by the man she loved, who withdrew from the life around her and lived alone for the rest of her life on a small island off the coast. The island became her hermitage, and the townspeople watched over her from afar, respecting her decision to withdraw but helping her out in whatever little ways she would accept.
My high school self appreciated the beauty of Jewett’s writing, but my seventy-year-old self deeply appreciates so much more. It is a book that you must read slowly, you cannot be in the hurry of modern life. You must read each word, because the dialect is just as important as the story itself. And you must take the time to let the sense of place and the timeless LIFE within this book soak in.
I chose to read this book as one of my 50-books-in-5-years for The Classics Club.