About the Book:
The Lobster Chronicles: Life on a Very Small Island is the story of author Linda Greenlaw’s transition from swordboat captain to lobsterman. Leaving the open sea behind her, Greenlaw moves home to a tiny island seven miles off Maine’s coast. The book follows her through a lobstering season, starting with prepping gear and ending with the traps being hauled in.
But The Lobster Chronicles isn’t just about lobsters. It’s also about the people on this tiny island, Greenlaw included — their relationships, their habits, their battles, their histories.
Don’t ask me why I picked this book off the Half Price Books clearance shelf years ago. I couldn’t tell you. I’m equally uncertain why it’s made it through several bookshelf purges and a handful of moves, including one across the country. Funny how some books just cling to you, isn’t it? All I can say is that something about the book’s premise — living off the land (or sea, really) on a tiny island in the Northeast — appealed to me.
The Lobster Chronicles didn’t disappoint in that regard. It’s not a long volume, but it manages to touch on all kinds of things: the island and its residents (both summer and year-round), the lobstering industry (from the gear to the politics and beyond), a bit of the island’s history, some of the realities of life on an island reachable only by boat, Greenlaw’s own history (both personal and familial), and even — briefly — the reproductive habits of lobsters. Greenlaw paints her chosen pictures well, drawing the reader into this tiny, isolated, yet beautiful and rich world. No single aspect receives too much time or attention. Instead, Greenlaw strikes the right balance between terms and processes on the one hand and more personal story on the other. She touches on just enough technical stuff to give you a window into the world of lobster fishing, but not so much that you’re bored or confused. At the same time, she gets lost in neither the island’s history nor its day-to-day dramas.
It’s in the execution that I started finding little flaws in The Lobster Chronicles. For starters, I wasn’t quite sure why Greenlaw chose to spend her time on the specific anecdotes she does. Some made sense, while others seemed to get more or less time than they warranted. Further, though the book covers a broad range of topics, the way in which those topics come together isn’t always clear. Transitions feel a little choppy or forced. Shifts in topic feel abrupt. I often couldn’t really see why B came after A (or why they couldn’t have been sequenced the other way around). I also felt like the way Greenlaw herself came across shifted throughout the book. Like the way she wrote didn’t match the way she wrote about herself, if that makes sense. Like her voice didn’t align with the actual thoughts and feelings she records having.
The writing itself was okay. There were moments when I really liked Greenlaw’s writing style. A few times I nearly laughed out loud; at others I was touched or moved. But then there were other moments when a sentence meandered in an odd direction, when language got in the way of the story just enough to pull me out of the narrative. It felt like the book couldn’t figure out how to settle on a tone.
The Verdict: Mediocre
The Lobster Chronicles satisfied the desire that prompted me to purchase and hang onto it. Not, in my opinion, an exquisitely crafted work, but still interesting and well enough written to make me read it all the way through. And now I can finally release it back into the world!
Have you ever been inexplicably drawn to a book? Did it turn out the way you’d hoped?