When Andrew, an English teacher who grew up in Damariscotta (the author of “The Midcoast” shares both traits), returns to his childhood stomping grounds, he finds the village subtly changed.

Ed Thatch, a local teenager who once harassed him at the grimy lobster pound where Andrew worked before going to college, has become the richest man in town. Ed’s wife, Steph, is now the town manager, and together they have made Damariscotta look “every bit as perfect as the ads in Down East magazine make it out to be.” To top it all off, their daughter Allie has become a star player on the Amherst College women’s lacrosse team.

The novel begins at the Thatches’ over-the-top reception for Allie’s team, an event they designed to be “as close as the Thatches would ever come to a debutante ball.” That this dream will not pan out becomes clear when the party is interrupted by a squad of police cars.

“The Midcoast” is Adam White’s first book, and his writing sucks you in from the first sentence. Ed Thatch’s rise and fall keeps the reader glued to the page until the book ends exactly where it began, at the Gatsbyesque reception on the Thatches’ lawn. Indeed, there is more than an echo of Jay Gatsby in Ed’s overpowering need to provide Steph — his Daisy — with everything she wants, by whatever means. In his mind, stealing an engagement ring for her was no more of a crime than “speeding on the way to the hospital with Steph in labor.”

Exciting as the story is, “The Midcoast” is no mystery thriller. Since it is told in flashes forward as well as back, the broad outlines of how the Thatches made their money are apparent well before the book’s halfway mark. More satisfying than worrying about whodunnit, are the motivations of the main characters, especially Ed. Which is not to say that the actual denouement is not dramatic and unexpected — it is.

Somewhere toward the middle, the drama of Ed and Steph’s life morphs into the less compelling narrative of Andrew’s quest to fathom it. Why he has become obsessed with the Thatches is unclear, but he suddenly converts his family’s pantry into a writer’s office. Seemingly out of the blue, Steph accosts him: “I heard you’re writing a book about me.”


Since the setting is the Maine coast (rather than Long Island), a key part of the story is the pull between locals and summer people, “your kind of people, Andy,” as Ed, from a long-time lobstering family, taunts him maliciously. Andrew, who first came to Damariscotta as the son of the only orthopedic surgeon in the county, “always resented the characterization – perhaps because it fit.” The author’s quietly lacerating allusions to “pastel belts embroidered with whales and three-woods” and “faux-European circle decals designed to make MV and OBX look like legitimate nation-states” suggests a similar class discomfort.

White has a well-tuned ear for dialogue and a sharp eye for social situations. He also has a knack for apparently incongruous but effective description, as in “the ambient city glow turning the rooftops white but ceding jurisdiction, at street level, to the tall flickering lamps.” At a party, “the floral-printed air of platonic life partners;” in the stillness of an island crime scene, “a line knocked lightly against a flagpole.” These little observations, unimportant in themselves, make “The Midcoast” feel very real, inside and out.

This quality to a large extent mitigates one of the book’s two main flaws: the need for a major suspension of disbelief. Is it likely that in a village, Ed’s sudden wealth – and its ubiquitous display – would have gone so long without arousing comment, not to mention envy in his community?

The other is perhaps more of a foible. The story seems unnecessarily hard to follow. Andrew’s sleuthing efforts add a further layer of confusion as the story jumps about in time and place. I found myself having to go back again and again to keep up with the chronology of events.

But White writes so enchantingly we never lose interest. We empathize with Ed, even as he demonstrates his deeply problematic nature. We smirk at his metamorphosis from camo to purple Amherst sweatshirt, but we root for him right to the end. An ending which, to compare once more, is as affectingly and memorably written as Nick Carraway’s epilogue to “The Great Gatsby.”

Thomas Urquhart is the author of “Up for Grabs, Timber Pirates, Lumber Barons and the Battles Over Maine’s Public Lands.”

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