June 30, 2013

Home is where the art is for Cathie Pelletier

The author has come back to her roots in far-northern Maine to live ... and write.

By Bob Keyes bkeyes@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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Cathie Pelletier rides on the St. John River in a canoe piloted by her brother, Vernon.

Photos by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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Cathie Pelletier stops to smell the flowers with Darlene Kelly Dumond, a childhood friend.

Additional Photos Below

When it was released in May, "The One-Way Bridge" quickly became the top-selling fiction book at Longfellow Books in Portland.

The novel brings the Mattagash story into the current era. When Pelletier began writing this series, it was set in 1959; the new book takes place in 2006.

Much has changed, yet much is the same. As in the case of real-life Allagash, the cell phone service in Mattagash is spotty, but the logging trucks still rumble down the road in the middle of the night. It's easier to get to Fort Kent, but it's still seven hours to Portland.

And in her story, there's still a one-way bridge, which ties the town in knots and brings it to a standstill in a show of will between two longtime adversaries, a retiring mailman and a Vietnam veteran. They end up nose to nose in their vehicles in the middle of the span, neither willing to budge for the other, a lifetime of misunderstandings and disagreements between them.

Although Pelletier "does not consider myself back yet," she seems very at ease in Allagash, which claims about 200 residents. She is surrounded by family, and keeps a low profile in town. She describes herself as a bit of a hermit, and sometimes wishes that her father had planted trees in the front yard to provide more privacy.

But she is very much at home.

On a tour of the town, Pelletier points out all the local landmarks, which are few. The "Welcome to Allagash" sign, the former school, the confluence of the Allagash and St. John rivers. She marvels at the wild roses and lupines, and pays curious attention to the American flags that hang throughout town. 

'SHE'S ONE OF US'

Pelletier has reconnected with old friends, who delight in having "our own little celebrity" back in town. "But it's not really like that," says Darlene Kelly Dumond, a childhood friend. "She's one of us. She's Allagash. There's nothing fake about her."

Like Pelletier, Dumond also came home to Allagash. She left when she was young, settling in southern Maine. She came home in 2005, and helps out at the local cafe.

"It says something about our community that those of us who have gone away have found our way back," Dumond said. "Those of us who do find our way back are lucky."

Dumond reconnected with Pelletier when, while sunning on a York County beach, she began reading one of the author's earlier Mattagash novels and recognized the characters. "I know all these people," she remembers thinking.

Pelletier has been busy. She filled her spring and summer with books tours, drawing capacity crowds to publicity events in Nashville and to a reading in Portland. In August, the paperback edition of "The One-Way Bridge" will be available.

She will release two new books next year: A middle-school reader tentatively titled "Aliens in Allagash," and a novel, "A Year After Henry," set in another fictional Maine town, Bixley, that has no connection to Allagash whatsoever.

"I don't know where it is," she said with a laugh. "It's somewhere in Maine."

Pelletier would not be the writer she is if not for Allagash. Growing up in a remote place like this, so far from everything, helps sharpen one's imagination, she said.

In the '50s and '60s, the surest way out of town was a logging truck or the river. The river has sustained generations on both sides of her parental lineage, and remains the ribbon of soul that defines the community geographically and culturally. The deep-woods lumber industry still supports the livelihood of many in her family and in this town.

She is fascinated by the draw of northern Maine, and can't quite explain it.

"Something I have noticed -- and booksellers tell me the same -- even in Connecticut and New Hampshire, they have never seen before how people come to buy a book and meet me because I'm from northern Maine," she said. "Imagine someone saying, 'I wanted to meet you because I'm also from northern Maine.' Or they tell me their father, mother or even grandparents are from Caribou, or Madawaska or Fort Fairfield.

"They feel a connection. We are a different planet. We should be a separate state."

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or:

bkeyes@pressherald.com

Twitter: pphbkeyes

 

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Additional Photos

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Cathie Pelletier and her brother, Vernon, come ashore on the bank of the St. John River.

Gabe Souza

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The house where Cathie Pelletier was born and her mother died – and where she now lives with her husband and her 93-year-old father.

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With the Allagash River in the background, Cathie Pelletier poses near her ancestral home in Allagash.

Gabe Souza



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