After reading Paul Doiron’s excellent The Poacher’s Son, I mentioned in my review that I was hoping to read more books set in the US state of Maine. A couple of readers suggested I read Elizabeth Hand’s Generation Loss and the recommendation coincided with me receiving a review copy from Constable and Robinson. In the book, we get to see a different side to Maine which is no less violent that that of Doiron’s novels. Once more, the beauty of the landscape reveals an underbelly that allows madness to fester.
Cass Neary is a photogrpaher who had her fifteen minutes of fame during the punk era. She published a book featuring dead addicts on New York streets that became a minor cult classic. However, she has since fallen into the abyss of drug and alcohol addiction and her early promise wasn’t fulfilled. When an old friend offers her the chance of interviewing a reclusive cult photographer, whose style greatly influenced her own work, Cass agrees. However, Aphtrodite Kamestos lives on an island off the coast of Maine, a landscape far removed from the familiarity of the New York streets. When she arrives in the community, Cass struggles with the attitude of the locals, Aphrodite’s claim that she never agreed to the interview and her lingering suspicion that all is not what it seems.
The dominant force of this book is the character of Cass Neary. Damaged and cynical, she washes up on the Maine shores with an attitude that immediately gets the back up of some locals. But she clearly has talent as a photographer and she responds to the creative forces that she encounters. The islands off Maine were once the home to a commune and the legacy of the sixties counter-culture is clearly as damaging as that of the later punk era. Some of the people of Maine respond to Cass’s vulnerability and it is clearly a community that can accept loners.
It takes a while for the murder plot to become apparent, somewhere around the midway point. The tone of the book then changes and becomes fairly menacing which works well in the bleak landscape. The sea always adds an element of fear into a narrative and, combined with a dangerous loner with a murderous attitude, it makes for a brutal conclusion.
This is an unusual read and is a mix of hard-nosed noir combined with evocative descriptions of the Maine coast. Hand is clearly a talented writer and I’m pleased she is finally being published in the UK.