Linda Greenlaw’s newest autobiographical sketch of life on an island digs deeply into her own solitary life choices in LIFESAVING LESSONS. We have met the diminutive young Linda, fishing for big-game swordfish in the North Banks of the Atlantic, fighting the frigid seas, dealing with poachers, fellow competitors and the law in her prior bestselling books. We have seen her softer side through her memories of growing up on Isle au Haut, a windblown, sparsely populated island off the coast of Maine.
Now we meet the mid-life crisis Linda, 40-something, confronting the reality that neither marriage nor children are in her future. Her companionable longtime relationship with Simon is flagging. She owns up to being a self-absorbed, adventure-seeking, fiercely independent game fisherman and author, all of which are lonely pursuits. When a new business venture, a partnership in a bait-seining operation ends up quite literally on the rocks, Linda faces reality. The backbreaking lobstering business is petering out, swordfishing is once again legal but so seasonal that it no longer pays the bills, and writing is at once her greatest love and her nemesis. She is at a crossroads and worse, suffering from writer’s block.
"Linda writes with pathos and humor about the tenuous relationship that develops as the horrific truth about the girl’s uncle comes to light."
As a favor to a newcomer to the island whose 14-year old niece is home from boarding school for the summer, she hires the troubled young girl, Mariah. Mariah is a good worker, but clearly dislikes the fishing business. They don’t connect, and Linda is relieved when Mariah returns to the mainland in the fall. Meanwhile, Linda’s long relationship with the man in her life is at a dead end. He is many years older, and while she gladly would have settled down for marriage and children early on, their adventurous relationship is largely fun and games, and she realizes that domestic life has passed her by.
So begins the long winter of her discontent as she comes to grips with reality. With Mariah and the summer people leaving for sunny climes, she opts for staying on the island for the winter instead of heading for Vermont and traveling with Simon. There, the isolation and loneliness serves only to amplify the emptiness of her future; for the first time, she begins to question her choices.
When Mariah returns the next summer, Linda and the other island women observe that something is amiss in the relationship between the girl and her uncle. When the uncle is arrested for drunkenness, the women rally to help her, and since Linda has the only empty bedroom, she reluctantly gives the girl a place to bunk.
Linda writes with pathos and humor about the tenuous relationship that develops as the horrific truth about the girl’s uncle comes to light. As the profile of pedophilia and abuse is exposed, and her uncle is arrested, Mariah, long ago abandoned by her mother and family in Kentucky, needs permanent shelter. Linda finds herself the most logical temporary haven in Mariah’s chaotic life and ultimately agrees to be her legal guardian.
Linda is suddenly plunged into parenthood. She is fortunate to still have Simon and her own family and friends as backup. Any parent of a teenager will recognize the challenges that adolescence presents, but how many can imagine what it’s like to begin that relationship three-fourths of the way to adulthood with a troubled stranger? Later, they joke about their shaky beginnings. When asked how she happens to be living with the famous Linda Greenlaw, Mariah responds: “I told her that I was in need of some major nagging and that you needed a pain in your ass, and that both of our needs were being met.” Then Mariah asked how Linda answered the same question. Linda writes, “I tell them that the stork left you on my doorstep when you were fifteen.”
As Linda and Mariah evolve into a mother/daughter relationship, and Mariah (not her real name) is all in favor of writing this story, her hope is that “this book will inspire or give strength to some other young victims to break out of their cycle of abuse.”
Reviewed by Roz Shea on March 22, 2013
Lifesaving Lessons: Notes from an Accidental Mother