Book Review: The Northern Reach by W.S. Winslow

Published March 2nd 2021 by Flatiron Books

A heart-wrenching first novel about the power of place and family ties, the weight of the stories we choose to tell, and the burden of those we hide.

Frozen in grief after the loss of her son at sea, Edith Baines stares across the water at a schooner, under full sail yet motionless in the winter wind and surging tide of the Northern Reach. Edith seems to be hallucinating. Or is she? Edith’s boat-watch opens The Northern Reach, set in the coastal town of Wellbridge, Maine, where townspeople squeeze a living from the perilous bay or scrape by on the largesse of the summer folk and whatever they can cobble together, salvage, or grab.

At the center of town life is the Baines family, land-rich, cash-poor descendants of town founders, along with the ne’er-do-well Moody clan, the Martins of Skunk Pond, and the dirt farming, bootlegging Edgecombs. Over the course of the twentieth century, the families intersect, interact, and intermarry, grappling with secrets and prejudices that span generations, opening new wounds and reckoning with old ghosts.

My Thoughts:

First impressions are not always correct. In the beginning, I must confess the writing style and story structure threw me for a loop. When I started to feel something for a character or the family dynamic, the story moves on to the next and at times I became frustrated. Yes, I was having a rough go of it all. It was time to take a step back and reevaluate the story and purpose of the presentation and I’m glad I did.

One must remember that when reading about generational families or interconnected families-if you will, there will be multi-faceted plots. You will be taken deeply into a historical time-lines. There will be strong elements that can sway you from happy moments to darker times. In short, they evolve. Family bonds are complicated to say the least and the author marvelously portrays this fact. We might not like the characters or we will feel we are not getting enough from them but that is okay. The Northern Reach is an evocative story and will push boundaries you might not have expected to cross.

I did enjoy a quite few of the story-lines and the setting and I was intrigued with the character’s life story and I wanted to read more about them. Will we be reading more about these interesting people? I would like to very much! As the story continued, I began to have a better understanding of the set-up-if you will. There is strong character development and the setting gives you a stark, realistic view of the state of Maine and its’ towns. There is a particular social element in the story that is still considered a hot topic in today’s climate that I would really like to pick the authors brain about!

The author superbly portrays how people can make assumptions about other people and even more so in families. The Northern Reach is not a story of virtuous people, but they are down to the bone’s realistic of human nature and thought. In particular the attitudes of the Baines family and the people who marry into that family. At first, I found Edith Baines to be an intriguing woman, I soon discovered her to be just as flawed-if not more- like the rest of them. She was hardened by her life experiences and loss. Her attitude-I felt-towards her daughter-in-law Lilane was unjust. The women who made the most impression on me were Imelda, Alice, Liliane and Suzanne. I would like to read more about them.

An intriguing story wrought in hardships, cultural differences, family dysfunction, legacy and loss.

Stephanie Hopkins

I obtained a copy of this book through the publishers for an honest review.

Interview with W.S. Winslow coming up Friday, March 5th here a Layered Pages!