Susan mentioned that she likes reading the inscriptions at the beginning of books and that made me take particular note of the inscription in Elizabeth Graver’s latest novel, The End of the Point. “When I began to tell you children about the different ways in which plants sent their young out into the world, I had no idea that I should take so much time and cover so many pages with the subject.” This is a quote from Mrs. William Starr Dana, author of the children’s book Plants and Their Children (more about this book later), and purportedly the great grandmother in Graver’s story. The quote, however, summarizes, in part, what Ms. Graver’s book is all about…sending our children out into the world.
It is also about ‘home’. The End of the Point is the second family saga set in Cape Cod that I’ve read recently, the first being The Big House: A Century in the Life of an American Summer Home by George Howe Colt, the former being fiction and the latter non-fiction.
The End of the Point describes the Porter clan who summer in Ashaunt, MA, near Buzzards Bay. It is in four parts, each narrated by a different person: 1942 narrated by Bea, the Scottish nanny to the Porter’s youngest daughter, Janie; 1947-1961 narrated by Helen, Janie’s older sister; 1970 narrated by Charlie, Helen’s son, named after her brother who died during WW II and 1999, told in the third person. Bea describes how the second World War intruded on the serene life of Cape Cod and her life in particular…the opportunities taken and possibly the regrets for those not taken. Helen, always the strong willed daughter recounts her life, her struggles to achieve in a man’s world and how her treatment of Charlie may have been part of his struggle to find himself, although the 1970s were certainly an era in which many college students were ‘lost’. In the last segment, Helen, Janie and their other sister, Dossy, are in their later years, one suffering from cancer, one from mental instability.
In all of their worlds of turmoil, though, the one place that seemed to bring peace and calmness is Ashaunt, the Big House (funny, in both books, the main house was called the Big House). Even amidst the hubbub of growing and extended families, Ashaunt was the refuge from troubles, its natural beauty (even in the face of land sales and new home construction) and sense of home easing the mind.
Graver has provided stories of some very strong women: Bea, in her quiet way, has her strong sense of duty to the Porter children, at times to the detriment of her own life; Helen, the wild child has the drive to succeed in academia’s male world; Gaga (Helen’s mother) runs her family while her husband is wheelchair bound for most of his later life and Janie, seemingly the sanest of all Porter girls makes a strong life for herself, her husband and six children. Even Charlie, a lost boy since his early teens, ‘finds himself’ in the end. Each character could very well be the focus of a novel, each has a story to tell, especially Bea and Helen.
I know the strong feeling of wanting to provide a ‘home’ for our children, a place that they can seek refuge and comfort, regroup and go back out into the world rejuvenated. The Big House(s) described in these books and the families that occupied those houses gave their children their sense of well-being and being home. I’m suggesting you read both books, The End of the Point by Elizabeth Graver and The Big House by George Howe Colt.