Thursday, September 01, 2011

"Isle Royale" by John Hamilton and Fare Thee Well, Joe Garland

I grew up spending part of each summer in Erie, Pennsylvania with my godparents. The highlight of every day was when Aunt Rosie finished up her chores and packed up for the beach. We would drive out Presque Isle with me hanging out the windows just dying for my first glimpse of the lake and giddy at the prospect of all the fun I would have on the beach. That was over 50 years ago but I still love the Great Lakes as much or more than the ocean. So when I read about John Hamilton's Isle Royale I had to order it. I finished it last night and I loved it.

Set in 1924, Isle Royale is the story of young Ian MacDougal who lives with his parents on isle Royale in Lake Superior. Clarence, Ian's father, is the head lightkeeper there and he takes great pride in his job – and drives his wife Collene crazy by spending his evenings playing his bagpipes high up in the lighthouse sending their eerie sound out over the huge lake. Ian, being a teenager and therefore bored, has three interests in life: jazz which he has limited access to on the island, rock climbing which would give his mother a heart attack if she knew, and Sally the lovely daughter of the assistant lightkeeper who is a “jazz age” girl with bobbed hair who prefers to row her own boat. Life is boringly predictable for the two teens until the night that Jean LeBeck arrives on Ian's doorstep.

LeBeck was once a great friend of Clarence and was once in love with Collene but the damage he sustained in World War I – including losing a hand which has been replaced by a hook – has embittered him. Now he wants to involve Clarence in his rum-running business and has not forgotten his love for Collene. As a huge storm is brewing out over the lake, LeBeck's gang of nefarious thugs arrive and it soon becomes up to Ian and Sally, aided by a ragtag band of old seafarers, to save their parents and, most of all, keep the lighthouse light burning through the storm.

The book is written for young adults and it is an action-filled adventure with lots of excitement and lots of Great Lakes lore. Though it is written for young people I was never once bored by it and was reminded of some of those great Disney adventure shows from my youth. There are fabulous depictions of maritime travel on Lake Superior, legends, lore, phantoms, and more. I loved every page.

Because my novel The Old Mermaid's Tale was also set on a Great Lake, Lake Erie, I was eager to see how the two would compare and I was not disappointed. Hamilton's descriptions of wind and weather, storms and legends, shipwrecks and ghost stories were very much like my own and even used some of the same colloquialisms and a dialect in his story that I used in mine. I was so pleased that we both knew such similar worlds.

This is just a great, adventure-filled story but it is also a lovely, haunting description of a world not a lot of people know. I hope more people will read Hamilton's book and enjoy it as much as I did.

Joe Garland's story makes Bill Trayes laugh.

Shortly after I moved to Gloucester I was introduced to Joe Garland, a Gloucester icon and legend, who wrote 22 books about this part of the world including the astonishing book Lone Voyager about the legendary Howard Blackburn. While I was talking to Joe I mentioned I was working about a book about the Great Lakes and he said that not enough had been written about that part of the world and I should keep at it. For a couple years after that whenever I saw Joe he'd say, “How's that Great Lakes book coming?” When it was finally published Joe read it and said he thought it was wonderful “except for all the sex stuff”. That was Joe.

Joe Garland died Tuesday night and he will be greatly, greatly missed. I know he is in heaven looking up Howard Blackburn and sharing tales. In his obituary the paper referred to him as "a prolific author, sailor, cantankerous citizen, irrepressible rebel and champion of worker's causes". Fare thee well, Joe, and thanks for the encouragement. Glad your gout won't bother you any more and that you'll finally get to meet Mr. Blackburn. More about Joe on Good Morning Gloucester.

Thanks for reading.

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