Cover to Cover

Books by UNH faculty and alumni

Cross-Grained & Wily Waters: A Guide to the Piscataqua Maritime Region, by W. Jeffrey Bolster
A House All Stilled, by A.G. Harmon '93G

Also of note:
April Lindner '84
Thaddeus Piotrowski
Lorenza Stevens Berbineau
Linda Chestney '94G
Stephen P. Reyna
William R. Fontenot
Adam W. Chase and Nancy Hobbs '82
Jim Hassinger '76 and David Baum

Cross-Grained and Wily Waters:
A Guide to the Piscataqua Maritime Region
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As in the region itself, there are many riches in these pages. The book was born in meetings of individuals "from many backgrounds and institutions," who all had an interest in "reaffirming the maritime identity of the Piscataqua River and Great Bay estuary," editor Jeffrey Bolster notes. As a result, the text has a community voice. The essays are written by professors and boat builders, architects and ecologists, anthropologists and journalists, many of whom have a UNH connection--including Bolster, a history professor who holds the university's Hayes Chair in the Humanities. The common thread is a profound respect for this distinct region, which is 120 square miles in area and consists of the Piscataqua River, its seven tributaries, Great Bay and Little Bay, and 17 towns from Seabrook, N.H., to York, Maine.

The book begins with three introductory essays on the human and non-human "nature" of the Piscataqua, the region's complicated ecology and "the ebb and flow" of its literature. From there, the book follows the route that a gundalow might take if it were exploring the region from the Isles of Shoals, "up the estuary and back to sea again." The essays about each of the 17 towns reveal fascinating histories and traditions.

For example, Nicholas Brown's essay on "local craft" describes boats that were built specifically to negotiate the notoriously tricky Piscataqua currents: the Hampton boat, the Isles of Shoals boat and the Piscataqua wherry. Besides detailing descriptions and uses for these crafts, Brown provides local lore. Howard Huntress of Eliot, Maine, owns one of the four known remaining wherries and remembers it as his family's only mode of transportation during the Depression: "The Huntress family had relatives across the river on the New Hampshire side," Brown writes, continuing by quoting Huntress: "'We didn't own a car in those days and neither did they, but we had that wherry.' The New Hampshire family used a loud horn to hail their relatives across the water. 'They usually wanted something from town [Portsmouth or Kittery] and my father would row over there, hear them out and then row off to collect whatever it was.' The round trip is several miles. 'We didn't think anything of it,' Howard said, [we] 'always felt safe in that wherry.'"

There is both pragmatism and poetry in this guide, and it is persuasive in its preservationist purpose. As its editor writes, "Savoring the Piscataqua's historical inheritance and preserving its natural environments is one way to keep the soul of this special place intact, thereby nourishing ourselves and future generations."

A House All Stilled
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Nothing turns out the way you want it to in A.G. Harmon's first novel about fathers and sons. However, the writing is so deep and resonant that the reader absorbs its message without flinching: Sometimes people choose to remain in a broken family structure rather than pursue the promise of a way out. Harmon never falters in exposing the emotional lives of his characters, so we understand how their decisions, however flawed, are possible, even inescapable.

The book, which won the 2001 Peter Taylor Prize for the Novel, tells three stories that coil around each other like snakes in a pit. Throughout the novel, 12-year-old Henry Tollett is in the process of discovering what it means to be male and a member of the Tollett clan in rural Mississippi. His father, Cox, and his grandfather, also named Cox but called Tollett, both have difficulties with day-to-day realities for different reasons. The younger Cox is haunted by memories of a young, joy-filled Tollett singing--memories that have subsequently been diluted by Tollett's uncontrollable appetite for whiskey. Nothing seems true to Cox because he cannot decide whether his father is the singer from those vague memories or the liar he became after he started drinking. Henry, in turn, learns his lessons about the past from his grandfather's drunken rantings.

All three men (for Henry is a man by the end of the novel) are struggling to find the proper way to feel about their fathers and their sons in a culture that doesn't allow for many options in defining masculinity. The women in the novel--Henry's mother, Martha, and Lois, the prostitute Cox visits regularly to vent his anger--ultimately don't have what either Henry or Cox need. With depictions both beautiful and brutal, Harmon shows how desperately they need each other, although all they can do is circle one another, trying to find the "form of a love that could both kill and raise."