When I am on holiday, I like to read a book that reminds me of the place where I am vacationing. I spent last week in Rhode Island and so I read Linda Greenlaw’s The Lobster Chronicles: Life on a Very Small Island. Greenlaw earned her reputation as a writer with her book The Hungry Ocean: A Swordboat Captain’s Journey. Greenlaw has worked as a fisher for most of her adult life and written about the experience. In fact, I think that her accounts of a life on the sea as a fisher are among the best. As Hemingway taught us about the sea in The Old Man and The Sea, Greenlaw tells another ocean tale of family and endurance as a way of life.
One of the benefits of the Inn where I spent my holiday was that the working port of Newport was right outside the window. The night I arrived, a fishing boat came in and I watched for several hours as it unloaded its catch, sending it off in a refrigerated truck. To move from that scene to those in the book was to become immersed in the fishing life. Throughout my very idyllic holiday, I was so aware of the toil of those fishers in those small boats. Greenlaw made life on an island come alive and the scene before me as I watched the unloading of the fishing boat was the confirmation of her account.
Like all great memoirs, Greenlaw tells her story as life happens and the reader inhabits this life along with the writer. When Greenlaw’s mother learns that she has cancer, and as she undergoes treatment for that condition, the advantages and disadvantages of living on a small island are intensified. The realities of living with cancer are intensified. This is some of the best writing about cancer that I have read.
Comfort comes to all of us differently and for those of us who read a lot – possibly too much – we can find comfort in a book where we least expect it. The last thing I expected to find in The Lobster Chronicles was a lobster casserole recipe that I know I will use whenever the sea seems too far away. If you do get this book, the recipe is on page 217 toward the end of the book. It calls for 12 cups of lobster! There is no indication of how many people the recipe is meant to feed, but I’ll bet it’s more than two or three.
(Note: I read the 2002 Hyperion edition of The Lobster Chronicles: Life on a Very Small Island.)