In a debut novel set on a fictional island in Maine, an unusual boy comes of age
The fictional island of Menhaden, off the coast of Maine, is “a tight-knit community of thinkers – lobsters, mostly, and the brooding women who marry them”. This observation comes early in “Faron Goss,” Diane Lechleitner’s first novel. The lobster fishermen’s wives are also quite alike, united in their longstanding disdain for Alison Goss, a seductive beauty who has a penchant for indiscriminately sleeping with married island men and, during the summer season, tourists. . She is also the single mother of eight-year-old Faron Goss.
The book opens with a local lobsterer pulling up Alison’s body entangled in the line of her lobster trap. Ashore, he asks Jerry Gallager, who is in charge of the rigging, to help him drag his body onto the launch pad using boat hooks. They call the sheriff of the island, then leave for lunch at Scuppers Restaurant.
To say Alison was inattentive as a mother would be a gross understatement. She raised Faron “like he was just another chore to do. The sooner it was over, the sooner she could go and do whatever she wanted. Almost every night she would bring men home for drunken sex, Faron listening through the thin walls. Lechleitner does not dwell here, but she tells us enough to suggest that Faron’s life will be marked by darkness.
Although there is no love lost for Alison among the wives on the island, the women are sympathetic to the boy. Faron ended up living with Father Quinn Gage, minister of the Good Shepherd by the Sea Episcopalian Church, and his wife, Mary. Faron is reclusive and strange, catching bugs and moths in old cigar boxes just to listen to them buzz and bang inside, then let them go. He also runs barefoot and shirtless through island fields filled with bees, “to see if the buzzing was louder than the stings.” The inhabitants of the island are curious about him, but do not know what to think of him.
After the solid initial setup, the narrative loses some focus; rather than dramatically portraying the events, Lechleitner simply recounts them. The strange child grows up to be a strange teenager. At 16, “Faron Goss was beautiful to look at, just like his mother – a flexible and seductive look. The girls at school were “demanding to feel it. The brave ones arranged to meet him after school, hoping he would fondle their breasts. They like the way he draws moths and insects, but he is indifferent to their attention.
After graduating from high school, he is sent to rehab for participating in a girl’s kidnapping scheme to get her parents to give him a car. There it becomes clearer. He hones his prodigious artistry in rehab, his gifts recognized by Del, the shop’s instructor. “Don’t think in terms of color. Only light and shadow. Squint and look for the shape,” Del tells the budding artist. Lechleitner’s description of Faron’s growing creative prowess is almost fascinating, his observations and insights illuminating. She clearly taps into her own talents as an artist to provide such powerful verisimilitude.
Finally, Faron will work as a sternman on a lobster boat. He is a hard worker, which impresses the captain. But her habit of closing her eyes while shooting traps annoys the man, who repeatedly warns her that it’s dangerous. Faron ignores the warning because seeing the traps rise to the surface reminds him of his mother’s drowning.
The young man’s world changes when he meets Alva Dodge, whose grandparents had lived on the island. Alva is older than him, but the two are kindred spirits and are immediately smitten: she likes birds and he likes insects. Faron marries Alva and fathers twins, showing a preference for the smaller and weaker of the two. The story becomes more complex, captivating and dark.
“Faron Goss” tells the story of a damaged boy who struggles – mostly unconsciously – to free himself from his haunted childhood. It also depicts a community coming together to compassionately embrace him as one of their own. It’s a great story told simply, with no frills. I look forward to reading more from Lechleitner.
Frank O Smith is a Maine writer whose novel, “Dream Singer”, was a Bellwether Award finalist and was named Outstanding Book of the Year in Literary Fiction by Shelf Unbound. Smith can be contacted through his website: www.frankosmithstories.com.
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