The author of An Unexpected Forest returns with the story of Margreete Bright, a fiercely-independent, thrice-widowed woman fighting dementia along the Maine coast in the 1960s. When Margreete's daughter Libbie returns home to care for her, the family's complicated history comes into focus.
... the family at the center of Peaks Islander Eleanor Morse’s rather exquisite fourth novel finds that, even in the far reaches of Maine, it can be hard to hear grace notes above the roar of social turmoil ... With her roving point of view, Morse gives roughly equal time to each member of the household as everyone navigates the years, during which their interests evolve and their characters ossify ... It’s both a hallmark of Margreete’s Harbor and a feat of Morse’s daring that for all that’s going on in the larger world, not that much happens in and around Burnt Harbor. The odd catastrophe is averted. Events on the precipice of occurring—attendance at the March on Washington; a sexual assignation—lose their forward momentum for one reason or another. This gives Margreete’s Harbor its marvelous verisimilitude, although some readers may find it disappointing that the novel’s steady accretion of vignettes don’t add up to a traditional story line. For other readers, it will be enough that Margreete’s Harbor is shaped by the incendiary era that it’s submerged in, its quiet plot points sometimes turning on news items that lead to internal developments as earthshaking as the day’s headlines.
Eleanor Morse’s precise, patient prose captivates from page one ... Morse expertly plays with...perspective, showing how global events seep into every molecule of the family’s life ... Margreete’s Harbor is also a particularly tender portrait of a family faced with dementia ... Full of love, triumph and a boatload of heartbreak, Margreete’s Harbor is a celebration of life’s inevitable messiness. As after any good visit with family or dear friends, you will leave feeling satisfied while yearning for more.
There is nothing particularly special about this family or their experiences, but the book’s plot and circumstances are not what make it shine. Instead, it’s the literary quality of the story: Readers will be captivated by scenarios and dilemmas that seem familiar even if the details are different from their own lives. With engaging characters and lovely prose, Morse reminds us that it is the simple, everyday experiences that become treasured memories. And she fully captures what it means to be a family.