Young is a lively and moving story of one young woman's restlessness and struggle with life in a small Maine coastal town during the 1950s. Young's timeless themes still resonate as Evelyn, a recent high school graduate, confronts the question: What is she going to do with her life? All she knows for sure is that she is ready to escape a place where people know her every move and where her mother bakes bread that Evelyn delivers to the increasing number of summer residents.
Contentment Cove is a riveting story of class distinctions in a 1950s Down East coastal village during a time of cultural change. Meet Dot-Fran, Hilary, and Mina, three residents of a Maine coastal village in the 1950s. Dot-Fran, the youngest, is a native; she runs the town's drug store. Hilary, middle-aged, is a worldly artist. The wealthy Mina and her husband retired to the town after being enchanted with its charm during a one-night visit. Their disparate lives become entwined and eventually clash tragically.
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An interview with Miriam Colwell
You wrote three novels in the 1940s and 1950s. Please give us a brief summation.
My first novel, Wind off the Water (1945), was an attempt to portray the life of a small rural fishing community. In one's early twenties there seems to be the confidence that your particular insight may be illuminating enough to warrant exposure!
My second novel, Day of the Trumpet (1947), was an attempt to fictionalize, very roughly, what I knew and what I imagined of my grandfather Colwell's life.
After working several years on a novel that was never published (for very good reasons), I began Young (1955) and it wrote itself out of some unrecognized source, impulse, compulsion. It was the book I most enjoyed writing, the easiest to write and the only one at all autobiographical.
And then you wrote Contentment Cove.
I wrote Contentment Cove and my agent sent it out, this was in the late 1950s, but although it received very warm replies it was not optioned. So eventually, it was returned and put away in the chicken house file for about 50 years.
You reread Contentment Cove for the first time some 50 years after you had written it. What was your reaction?
My reaction to rereading Contentment Cove was surprise, delight and gratification! It is now my favorite of the four.
And its themes of class distinction and cultural displacement remain as relevant today as then. Are you surprised?
I think it is somewhat surprising, but the book is absolutely as relevant today. It is really about the replacement of one way of life with another until it becomes a different world. You can see it right here in Prospect Harbor. You go right up and down the streets and there will be just a house here and there with a native-born person living in it. I think over the past 25 years or so most of the people in the village are people who have moved here. I think the coast of Maine has been taken over by people from away. I don't say that it is bad; it is just the way things have happened.
However, while the demographics have changed, while there are more non-Mainers living here than native-borns and it is a different community in a different world, it is still my chosen home!
In reviewing your novels in total, what do you think they offer to the social history of Maine?
They offer the panorama of a town from a rural fishing village to the beginnings of social change with a few summer residents, to the onslaught of a new migration making coastal Maine their home.
The first book, Wind on the Water in 1945, was of a small, rather isolated fishing village, insular and self-contained, dependent on the sardine factory and lobster fishing. There were no summer people mentioned.
Fifteen or so years later with Young, though it takes place in much the same small community, Evelyn's mother now spends her summer baking for the summer families, and Evelyn's father works, as little as possible, for one of those families. In the book a few summer families have entered the life of the community where they didn't exist in Wind off the Water.
Now move on to Contentment Cove still a few more years later in the mid-50s and there is growing prosperity over the whole country. People from across New England and beyond, not just the idle rich, are beginning to discover the beauty of the Maine coast. They are beginning to retire here, even coming here to start new businesses. So, in Contentment Cove, we have a community of changing ways and challenges.
In their own small way, I think these three books bear witness to and portray the changing demographics and changing culture that has taken place along coastal areas over the last fifty years.
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