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Compass Rose (Vintage Contemporaries) Paperback – October 4, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

From Bookmarks Magazine

The New York Times Book Review described Spartina as “possibly the best American novel … since The Old Man and the Sea.” Casey’s sequel, as a result, has a lot to live up to. Whereas Spartina focuses on Dick, Compass Rose centers on Rose and the women who influence her. His depictions of coastal Rhode Island are still wonderfully evocative, as are his observant renderings of small town life and extended family relationships. Only the San Francisco Chronicle felt the multiple protagonists resulted in a “splintered structure” and an “unfocused” narrative. Although critics disagreed over whether Compass Rose rises to the heights of Spartina, they all agreed that it was well worth reading, though best preceded by a reading of the latter. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

In this sequel to the author’s National Book Award–winning Spartina (1989), Natural Resources warden Elsie Buttrick is forced to grapple with the fallout from her affair with Rhode Island fisherman Dick Pierce. As the novel opens, Elsie has just given birth to their daughter, Rose. Over the next 16 years, Elsie reins in her fierce love for the taciturn Dick, is grateful for his wife’s love and acceptance of Rose, must deal with the insular nature of a community well aware of her daughter’s illegitimate birth, and, finally, must convince her daughter that she is her biggest fan. Elsie also becomes consumed by her brother-in-law’s greedy development schemes, which are slowly transforming the landscape she knows and loves so well while displacing longtime residents. With its emotionally intricate interior monologues and many complicated relationships among multiple characters, this is a novel best suited to those who have read Spartina. They will most readily appreciate Casey’s rich paean to the prideful seaside residents of a Rhode Island community and their long and tangled history with the land and with each other. --Joanne Wilkinson --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: Vintage Contemporaries
  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (October 4, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375709134
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375709135
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,231,211 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

John Casey was born in 1939 in Worcester, Massachusetts, and educated at Harvard College, Harvard Law School, and the University of Iowa. His previous novel, Spartina, won the 1989 National Book Award for fiction. He lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, where he is Henry Hoyns Professor in the English Department at the University of Virginia. He is literary executor of the estate of Breece D'J Pancake.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By "switterbug" Betsey Van Horn TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 13, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
In rugged South County, off the coast of Rhode Island, the rustic beauty of the salt marshes, creeks, rivers, and ocean provides the substance and domain of Casey's follow-up/sequel to his 1989 National Book Award winner, Spartina. This book begins roughly where the other left off, circa 1989, and then segues to fourteen years later midway through the novel. It is the story of love and family, and the vicissitudes of six or less degrees of separation.

Middle-aged Dick had an affair with nubile Elsie (in Spartina), which resulted in baby Rose. Dick, the boat-builder and sea-lover, lives primarily out on the ocean. When he is landlocked, Dick stays in the house with his wife, May, and their two sons, Charlie and Tom. Dick and May have not quite resolved the pink elephant in the boat's deck. May wants Rose to be part of their lives, and she hasn't fully forgiven Dick. She is tormented about seeing Rose, and about not seeing Rose. How to accommodate the X-factor, Elsie? And the why oh Y-factor, Dick.

"May wondered how long she'd have to go on pulling thoughts out of her head. It seemed as endless as pulling rocks out of a field."

Elsie is free-spirited and nature loving. A Natural Resources officer, she is euphemistically called "the warden of the Great Swamp." Despite her affair with Dick, she is a sympathetic, strong, and enchanting character. She is feisty and warm, as seen through her nurturing devotion to the island's aging doyenne, Miss Perry. And she still loves Dick.

"She [Elsie] looked at Dick's face.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Melanchthon VINE VOICE on September 20, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
A group of families living on a promontory of the Rhode Island coast deals with a potential shared trauma by integrating it into their history and community lives. It's a problem to say much more than that about the plot of the novel because the trauma is revealed only bit by bit, and indeed one of the strengths of the narrative is the deft way in which the author brings the reader to the shared knowledge that the characters have of the recent events that precede the novel and drive its plot, not by telling us things, but by integrating our knowledge of events by means of having us learn the way the characters learn: by context, intuition, and integration of signs into our growing background awareness of the community. I really didn't realize it was possible for a novel to narrate a story in this way: that the reader almost becomes a character or watcher in the community because of acquiring knowledge about it in the same way the characters do. It's am amazing strategy.

If U.S. literature has anything to offer the world, I think it's terms of the novel's sense of place. There's a sense in which we think of Americans as detached from place, radically mobile individuals, but the emotional strength of this novel comes from the characters' sense of location, which is why the property dispute with which the novel ends turns out to be such a motor both for introspection and action in the novel itself. You really get a sense of the Rhode Island coast here, but without show: in the matter of fact way that the characters (like most Americans) live their lives.

The novel is a lot like the garden that one of its main characters grows. It's beautiful, it repays investment, and it bears a ripe harvest.
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24 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Sonja VINE VOICE on October 25, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
When I saw "Compass Rose" pop up as a book I could review through Vine, I was interested. When I saw that it was a sequel, I decided that I should first read "Spartina." Which I did, and I loved it. I was immediately sucked into Dick's world - his quest to build his boat and make a living doing something he loved. I understood his desire to stay on his family's land and his bitterness towards all the rich people who were buying up the land for vacation homes and squeezing him - and people like him, working class people - out. The point of view of the novel was singular, not only from one man but from one particular point in time. While I certainly don't agree with all of Dick's choices or attitudes, he was compelling, and I read through "Spartina" quickly and often breathlessly.

So I was looking forward to "Compass Rose." And then I started reading it. Maybe I should say I started *forcing* myself to read it, because it was an effort.

Gone is that singular, compelling point of view. Instead, the point of view shifts every chapter from one *female* character to another. By the halfway point, we get to see things the points of view of Elsie, May, Miss Perry, and Mary. I specify from the halfway point because that's how far I am, and I don't think I'm going any further.

I emphasized female in the above paragraph for a reason. A man can certainly write female characters and a woman can certainly write male characters. I am not questioning that at all. But this book seems to be over-reaching, what with having so many female points of view: each woman comes from a different social class and has different life experiences. It just didn't work for me. I didn't believe it.
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