Tuesday, May 10, 2011

221 (2011 #26). South of Superior

by Ellen Airgood

Madeline Stone's adoptive mother passes away, and she is at loose ends in Chicago.  She's tired of waitressing but doesn't want to marry her rich fiance.  So she heads five hundred miles north, to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, on the south shore of Lake Superior, to care for the aging sister of her dead blood grandfather's lady friend.

Set in the mythical town of McAllaster (modeled after the author's real home of Grand Marais), the novel does an excellent job with setting and the minor characters.  I've been to some similar small towns west of Marquette (which is also on Lake Superior and aabout 100 miles west of Grand Marais), with similar scenery and stubborn, quirky, mostly Scandinavian-descended folks living a hard life.  The two sisters, Gladys and Arbutus, also seemed realistic. 

It was Madeline and her story (and that of Paul, owner of a pizza parlor in McAllaster) which did not ring true for me.  I found it a little hard to believe that Madeline would give up her old life so readily to go live with people who, initially, were strangers, not even blood kin.  Her reopening of the hotel seems far-fetched, and the epilogue rather abrupt, though somewhat predictable.

After reading about the author, I had to wonder if she modeled Madeline somewhat on herself.  Ellen Airgood fell in love with the owner of Grand Marais' local diner while on a camping trip with her sister, and married him six months later.  I wonder if that might have made a more interesting story for Madeline instead.

There's a page on the author's website with photographs that inspired the book.  The hotel and houses remind me of those I saw near Marquette.  Particularly intriguing are the postcard and old photographs that inspired her.  I read an uncorrected proof, but I hope these images can be incorporated into the published version.

© Amanda Pape - 2011

[I read an advanced reader edition sent to me by the publisher.  It will be passed on to someone else to enjoy.]

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