With three main protagonists, “Just East of Nowhere” is unusual in scope. The dark, coming-of-age story tells the intertwining stories of Dan Winters, a teenager in juvenile detention; Griff Kimball, his one-time rival on the high school baseball team; and Susan Jamieson, Dan’s former girlfriend.

In a compelling debut, writer Scot Lehigh captures the angst and alienation of growing up in small-town Maine in the 1950s and ’60s. Dan, Griff and Susan attempt to make sense of themselves and others.

The book opens as Dan returns to Eastport on temporary leave from the Long Creek Juvenile Detention Center to attend his mother’s funeral. He is in detention for savagely beating Griff, who’d made a crude sexual comment about Susan.

He is not eager to return to Eastport, the “desert” of unhappy boyhood, Lehigh writes. Only baseball – “a secret oasis in the desert” – provided Dan with any happiness.

Dan’s mother, Clara Winters, was raped at 17 by a Navy sailor on leave in Lubec, and Dan is the result of that attack. The facts of his parentage have deeply stained his psyche and his life.

At the funeral, Dan is overwhelmed by the crowd of mostly middle-aged women. While alive, Clara was mocked by many in the community for the taint of her past, her poverty, her struggles as a single mother and her fervid religious beliefs. Now Dan discovers a side to his mother he’d never known.


“Your mother was quite a woman, always so generous. … So many people relied on her,” one woman says. Another tells him, “Your mother was of the finest kind.” An older gentleman also relates a story of his mother’s kindnesses.

Dan becomes obsessed with finding out what really happened to his mother as a teen. At the trial, though the sailor denied everything, he was convicted and sent to prison. Now the former sailor, Lester Fortin, works as a car mechanic in Lubec. Dan tracks him down and confronts him. Surprisingly, the rough-at-the-edges mechanic sits and talks with Dan, telling him his very different side of the story. Dan leaves more sympathetic to his father’s version of events.

The backstory in “Just East of Nowhere” is key to the unfolding of the main story, and the other two protagonists are central. Griff had been the first-string pitcher their junior year of high school, but Dan replaced him with a fast curveball their senior year. Susan and Dan broke up after a fight in which he pressured her to have sex. Susan later becomes Griff’s girlfriend.

For Dan, suspicions linger and grow about whether Lester was telling him the truth. Dan breaks into Lester’s home and rummages through his belongings; he discovers that the truth runs much deeper. He encounters Lester again, this time violently. Soon after, Dan, Griff and Susan confront each other in a cemetery that links their three histories. One of them nearly dies.

Lehigh, who grew up in Eastport and now divides his time between Cape Elizabeth and Boston, has some annoying literary tics: occasional wordiness, a penchant for narrative reflections of characters’ musings on life, and delays in clarifying which character is center stage.

Despite these, “Just East of Nowhere” lingers in the mind. Lehigh adeptly combines his backstories with his central tale and skillfully handles three coming-of-age stories simultaneously. The novel’s end is replete with surprises.

Frank O Smith is a Maine writer whose novel, “Dream Singer,” was a finalist for the Bellwether Prize. Smith can be reached via his website: www.frankosmithstories.com.

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