#BookReview The Northern Reach by W. S. Winslow @flatironbooks

Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for The Northern Reach by W. S. Winslow which will be published in hardcover on 2nd March 2021. My thanks to Claire at Flatiron Books for inviting me to take part in the tour and for my digital review copy via NetGalley.


The Northern ReachAbout the Book

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 inter-marry, grappling with secrets and prejudices that span generations, opening new wounds and reckoning with old ghosts.

Format: eARC (240 pages)             Publisher: Flatiron Books
Publication date: 2nd March 2021 Genre: Historical/Contemporary Fiction

Find The Northern Reach on Goodreads

Pre-order/Purchase links
Amazon UK
Link provided for convenience only, not as part of an affiliate programme


My Review

The book’s structure – a series of interconnected stories set in a fictional coastal town in Maine – will no doubt provoke comparisons with Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge and Olive, Again. However, the stories that make up The Northern Reach stretch over a period of time – from 1904 to 2017 – and follow the lives of members of four families whose fortunes intermingle over the generations. There are a lot of characters to keep track of but, thankfully, the author has provided a series of family trees which I certainly found myself referring to frequently.

The Northern Reach encompasses tragedy, loss, family breakdown and infidelity but also includes welcome moments of humour. I particularly liked the story ‘Striptease’, which although it has an undercurrent of sadness, describes a joyful daytrip in which a woman throws caution – along with a few other things – to the wind.

Although many of the characters are not particularly likeable, the author has a keen eye for how people behave and react to others. For example, in the chapter entitled ‘Starvation Diet’ set in 1966, Liliane, born in France, encounters snobbery from her husband’s relatives and their neighbours. At a “pot luck”, which she learns is nothing at all like a dinner party, she endures rather unsubtle put-downs from her mother-in-law, including deliberately mispronouncing Liliane’s name and comments about “fancy food”.

In ‘Planting Tiger’, Victoria is forced to return to Wellbridge for the funeral of her father, known to all as ‘Tiger’. It’s a town, and a past, she has done her best to leave behind. “Victoria picked her way through the clots of gossiping biddies, low-slung keg bellies, and blondes who could only be Tiger’s ex-wives or girlfriends.”  Ashamed of her family for reasons which will become apparent, she is dismayed at the unexpected arrival of her fiancé, Tino, especially when her mother, Jessie, turns up and introduces herself to him. Mishearing his name, Jessie wonders “what kind of parents named their kid after a member of the Jackson 5, and not even the famous one“.

‘Requiem (For The Unburied)’ set in 2017, recalls the event to which Edith Baines’ memory repeatedly returns in the opening chapter of the book, but also involves a more recent tragedy reaching well beyond the confines of Wellbridge. I can’t finish this review without mentioning the beautiful descriptions of the coastal scenery which is the backdrop to events in the lives of so many of the characters. ‘The slate-blue bay shudders beneath a gusting wind, foamy whitecaps breaking here and there.  The high tide has just started to turn, and in a few hours, the waterline will have retreated twenty feet from where it is now, leaving behind a wet moonscape of barnacle-crusted boulders, mounds of ochre seaweed, and even the odd starfish…’.

I really enjoyed the beautiful writing and the varied characters brought to life in The Northern Reach. I thought it was an impressive debut and I’d be keen to read whatever the author comes up with next.

In three words: Insightful, acutely-observed, poignant

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W. S. WinslowAbout the Author

W. S. Winslow was born and raised in Maine, but spent most of her working life in San Francisco and New York in corporate communications and marketing. A ninth-generation Mainer, she now spends most of the year in a small town Downeast. She holds Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in French from the University of Maine, and an MFA from NYU. Her fiction has been published in Yemassee Journal and Bird’s Thumb.

The Northern Reach is her first novel. (Photo credit: Jeff Roberts)

Connect with W. S. Winslow
Website | Twitter

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