Dark Harbor House by Tom DeMarco, Down East Books, Camden, ME. 288 pp., paperback, $14.95. ISBN 0- 89272-511-7.
In the late 1940s, the Forsythes invite a diverse group of friends to Dark Harbor House, their summer home on Islesboro [island off the coast of Maine]. Along with their baggage, the guests bring a quirky array of personal dreams, plans and obsessions to the once-grand summer cottage. The summer-long house party becomes an occasionally bewildering, often hilarious tangle of young lust, midnight love affairs and screwball misunderstandings.
If Dark Harbor House has a hero, he is the engaging and inept Liam Dwyer, one of the oh-so-sophisticated “young moderns” among the guests. Liam fancies himself an aesthete, a poet suffering from a “deep, abiding melancholy,” a gift of his Irish ancestry, he claims. Jody Forsythe thinks it a problem with his digestion.
Liam wants to be in love with beautiful Laura Beauchalet. He practices every line he’ll speak to her, experimenting with different tones of voice and striking what he hopes are effective and poetic poses. The best laid plans, however, especially of young men regarding young women, often go astray.
With the arrival of the handsome, piano-playing Bruno Nougat, Liam’s amorous expectations receive a set-back. Should he dash off a poem to Laura expressing his devotion, or slink off on the next boat to the mainland, leaving the field to his flashy rival? Is unrequited love worth missing a divine meal from the French chef? Perhaps not. After all, even a poet can appreciate fine cooking.
As if the present house party weren’t interesting enough, past guests at Dark Harbor House have left behind them tales of immorality shocking even to the young sophisticates. In the early 20th century, Dark Harbor House’s owner hosted two female evangelists (loosely based on Aimee Semple McPherson and Ellen Goodman White) and their host of Angels and Acolytes as well as three health fanatics: W.K Kellogg, C.W. Post and the fictional Dr. Ralston. Rumors abound of some rather un-religious romps. Hints of nude baptisms, voyeurism and a bit too much camaraderie between the Angels and Acolytes are all heady stuff to the present young generation.
Rarely has an author assembled such an eccentric yet wholly credible collection of characters. Dark Harbor House is well-constructed, full of insight, honesty and humor. With all its plots, subplots, digressions and diversions, the story flows along smoothly and gently. DeMarco’s easy and elegant style, deft and efficient character portrayals—especially of young people at that precarious coming of age stage of life—and his lively wit make this comedy of manners a compelling and satisfying read. Tom DeMarco is a wonderful storyteller. Don’t miss this book.
Tom DeMarco is a computer systems consultant living in Camden, Maine. Dark Harbor House is his seventh book.