I'm always impressed when a novelist can write perceptively and capably about a protagonist of the opposite gender, particularly when the author is male, as that seems like the less common scenario. Joseph Monninger, whose previous books also have occasionally featured female protagonists, handles his project smartly and adeptly in MARGARET FROM MAINE, his latest romance, which is set in the wake of the conflict in Afghanistan.
"[R]eaders will be eager to discuss the development of all of these characters and to debate the paths they choose. MARGARET FROM MAINE is a heartfelt novel that will appeal to readers who like their romance tinged with bittersweetness."
Margaret Kennedy is still a young woman, but she sure doesn't feel that way. For the past six years, she's been a widow in thought if not in fact, since her husband Thomas has been in a persistent vegetative state following his heroic service in the military, during which he effectively lost his life to save another's. Margaret and Thomas's young son, Gordon, only knows his father as a lifeless man in a hospital bed. Margaret, who runs the family's dairy farm nearly singlehandedly, has come to feel as if her whole family's life, not just Thomas's, is in a state of suspended animation, unlikely or even impossible to change or improve.
That is, until Charlie King, another veteran (he lost his leg in conflict), comes to Maine to accompany Margaret to a ceremony in Washington, DC, that will recognize Thomas's heroism as President Obama signs a veterans' rights bill into law. Margaret is unprepared for her physical and emotional response to Charlie, and over the course of a memorable and life-changing weekend, she must confront her own ideas about fidelity, loyalty, responsibility and love.
Monninger frequently shifts points of view from Margaret to Charlie to Gordon (who, it turns out, is confronting his own quiet struggles) to Margaret's friend Blake and her father-in-law Ben. Although at times the dialogue between these characters can be overly sentimental and artificial, the emotions underlying it are genuine and complex. Monninger has also become well known for his adeptness at writing about landscape and the natural world, and this talent is certainly on display here, as the author brings places --- as distinctive as down east Maine and the Blue Ridge Parkway in rhododendron bloom --- vividly to life.
Some may question, or even be perturbed by, Margaret's decisions and how they play out in the book. Others may find her choices noble. No matter what, readers will be eager to discuss the development of all of these characters and to debate the paths they choose. MARGARET FROM MAINE is a heartfelt novel that will appeal to readers who like their romance tinged with bittersweetness.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on January 10, 2013