on May 28, 1999
I found this to be an extraordinary novel because it really didn't seem like fiction at all. No plot, no bodice ripping, no contrived literary conventions, nothing; Sarah Orne Jewett constructs each episode to blend into the next as seamless as a conversation with a close friend, and the overall effect makes something like a landscape painting, only in print form. Each character she writes about was deformed by the weather, the soil, the isolation, the struggles, and the sea, yet in their faults, they are human and thus dignified--it is beautiful in a simple way.
I would recommend reading this book some afternoon with the telephone unplugged, sitting on a porch with a teapot full of Earl Grey nearby, with your feet propped up and your cares let down. It's as subtle and delightful as a waft of air from the garden after an afternoon shower. It's a haiku in prose--the memory of the book is better than the reading. Enjoy!
on January 13, 2004
I'd have to disagree that this title is for older readers. But I can see how, in general, a more sedate pace is required to truly enjoy the read.
I'm 27 and currently undergoing chemotherapy for metastatic breast cancer. I'm an avid reader, but since treatment began I haven't been able to focus so well.
I happened to pick up this book on a whim, and I do no regret it. While there is no plot, and the chapters are really just a series of character sketches, this book is pure magic. You have to be in the right frame of mind to appreciate it though.
I've been sick a lot through treatment and when I've tried to read "lighter" books, they've barely aroused my interest for long.
This book is in no way light. It is quiet and subtle and still and profoundly deep. It is exactly what I needed, a literary balm for the soul--taking me to a place and allowing me to meet people long lost to time, immersing me in a beautiful world I don't really wish to leave.
It draws you in, as if it's winter and you are welcomed into a warm room with a cozy fire--and it wraps around you with all the comfort of heaven.
I'll be disappointed when I reach the last page and thus the end of this particular journey.
on April 15, 2005
Sarah Orne Jewett's THE COUNTRY OF POINTED FIRS is a visitor's tale. Set in the fictional Maine coast town of Dunnet Landing where the author/narrator has settled for the summer to write. As a visitor, the narrator inevitably recounts only the pieces of history she comes in contact with through her landlady and the people she meets in the community. The stories are portraits, bits and pieces, of lives that exist outside the narrator's brief visit. As a result, the reader feels like a companion on this holiday. The novella moves at the pace of a quiet seacoast village, and is refreshing to read for that very reason. Like a vacation, outside cares fade while focusing on the lives, habits and landscape of this place. The writing is finely wrought. A real affection for a place and people one knows briefly shines through the work and makes one wish for a time and place when travel, life and writing unfolded at a the speed of a long walk.
Some editions incorporate other stories written about Dunnet Landing into the body of the novella. This can lead to a change in the narrator's voice that is incongruous with the rest of the work. Look for a version that preserves the order of one of the early publications with other short works in a separate section.
on March 18, 2001
Willa Cather, a friend and protege of Sarah Orne Jewett, ranked The Country of the Pointed Firs along with Huckleberry Finn and The Scarlet Letter as the American work of fiction most likely to be acknowledged by posterity as an immortal masterpiece. While readers can easily quibble with Cather's top choices, it is easy to see that The Country of the Pointed Firs is a masterpiece--though perhaps not one for every taste. The leisurely, closely detailed novella has an unnamed narrator who describes her two summers living among the kindly, easygoing residents of Dunnett's Landing, a seaside town in Maine. It begins with an offstage funeral and ends with an offstage wedding, and very little in the conventional sense happens in the book--herb gathering, visits to neighbors, a reunion of mostly elderly family members. Very little happens--and yet the reader gets an overwhelming sense of the ties of love and gratitude that bind people on earth, as well as a keen, poignant apprehension of the passage of time and the finiteness of existence. It is somewhat reminiscent of "Our Town," but The Country of the Pointed Firs is the more profound work of art. This meditative little book could probably not be appreciated fully by any reader under the age of 40. Yet for the right kind of reader, it has a power and poignancy that outstrips its minuscule size.
on April 28, 1999
Sarah Orne Jewett keeps her readers interested from page to page, not through action and adventure, but through intellectual conversation. Usually I would not have picked up The Country of the Pointed Firs, because nine out of ten of the books that I read contain constant action sequences from one page to the next. Although after reading this book from beginning to end, I began to understand the characters in the book and could relate to the peaceful community that they belonged to. The narrator brings us into her everyday peaceful life through the emotion and laid-back style that she puts into every description. The narrator's love for nature helps us to understand New England as she sees it. She helps all of us "city people" to accept New England for what it is, paradise. The narrator, with the help of Mrs. Todd, Mrs. Todd's mother, and William, help give the reader some background and history of New England specifically Maine where they live. The small part that I enjoyed most though, was the narrator's discussion with the old and wise Captain Littlepage. His description of the island that he had visited while he was out at sea brought a very mysterious feeling to the book. I was upset to find out that this was where the mystery ended. I also enjoyed Jewett's ability to describe some of the close and personal family relationships in the story. At times I felt like I knew the entire life story of all the characters in the story. All in all I really enjoyed the book. I do not recommend it to a younger crowd, but I know all old and young adults will enjoy it as I did. Sarah Orne Jewett has created a masterpiece that will last for years to come.
on August 24, 2002
Perhaps the finest example of the type known as a "local colorist", this quiet book radiates peace, tranquility, warmth, and, at least implicitly, small town values. While the stories are sequential (at least in the work proper - this edition also includes some first-person narratives that fit contextually, but are actually outside the body of the original work) - and unified (all take place in a small portion of Maine, and takes place over the course of one summer), there's no real overlying plot or climax to the book, and blessed little action. Instead, the reader is treated to a few relaxing months in the country, with nothing to do but listen to the crash of the surf, breathe in the pungent smell of the herb garden, and enjoy the nodding conversations of the sparsely-drawn and just-sufficiently-colorful locals. Beloved and respected relatives abound, and one of the add-on stories even compasses a wedding. No stress, no worries, and no problems to solve - this is a book that could help one get to sleep on some too-tense evening. Of course if you're hoping for something a little more from a book, best look elsewhere. There's really nothing more than light, quiet entertainment here, but it's of such a refined and delightful quality as one rarely finds in the literary canon. As such, women will probably enjoy this book more than men, and mature readers will probably appreciate it more than young people. But when you've had enough excitement, and the toils of your savage work day are weighing heavily on you, don't forget that Mrs. Todd will still have a spare room waiting for you in her quiet New England home.
on April 27, 1999
Sarah Orne Jewett, through cloudless vision into the souls of her characters and deep connection of their relationship with nature, lures the unwilling to her sanctuary. Captain Littlepage, who identifies with the sea for example, is drawn out through his mysterious stories of voyages. Mrs. Todd finds peace and fulfillment in healing herbs and hospitality. Joannah exists on an isolated island a reader is able to feel that they know. As one customer commented, "personalities are shaped and distilled into persons of real character" ("a short story collection centered around the people of Maine"). A sense of genuine devotion the people of the close knit community share for each other is certainly captured in Jewett's chronicles. William's repeated abandonment of his inhibitions is a model of the tenderness exposed throughout the tale. "The Country of the Pointed Firs" is a story that deserves respect and commendation for it's gentle picturesque style that relates so appropriately with common people Jewett illustrates in a different light.
Still, valid criticism is generated by our action-based, youth-oriented society where quietly unfolding "wisdom" ("Old Time Country Charmer") has little opportunity to gain appreciation. If you're looking for action, you won't find it here. Nor will you travel through the thoughts of complex, fascinating characters. It is far from surprising that not all readers want to be removed from the high-paced world in which most of us take part. Maybe "The Country of the Pointed Firs" remains uninviting to youth because such a generation does not want to take part in the details of a story that describes an unrecognized fear: aging. This is truly a work that will be what is brought to it. Older people might have a more mature sense of the beauty and peace that could come from a stop to smell Jewett's roses.
on July 3, 2002
Many have said you need to be older (at least 40) to appreciate this book, but I loved it and I'm only 26. Jewett made me feel like I was really there in Dunnet Landing, and since the narrator is never named, I felt like I was the narrator, living her experiences (it helps that the narrator in this story is a writer and so am I). I loved Jewett's descriptive language and rich characterization. I would recommend this book to anyone who appreciates beautiful imagery and unforgettable characters. My favorite character in the novel is Mrs. Todd's mother, Mrs. Blackett -- I wish I was as loving and giving and self-forgetful as she is! My husband and I are planning a trip to coastal Maine this summer, and I will be thinking about this novel while I'm there.
on September 22, 2001
I've read many wonderful novels but I could count on the fingers of one hand those that seemed to transcend literature and, in Kenneth Rexroth's phrase, bring me face-to-face with the meaning of existence. Of that glorious few, "The Country of the Pointed Firs" is by far the shortest and yet, mysteriously and inexplicably, the deepest. It's a still and quiet book; it will not show its face it to you if you read it while riding the subway to work. It's the sort of book to read on sitting alone in a graveyard while a cool breeze blows the last autumn leaves from the branches. That's the best description I can give you; it's too subtle and beautiful for summaries. Just read it, please.
on May 3, 1999
The Country of the Pointed Firs is definitely a book that should be read when there is time on your hands. It can be read quickly, but it will not be appreciated as it should be. It is a book that definitely does not go quickly, but it is not one that is lacking in incomparable descriptions and peaceful concoctions. As a reader, I definitely was not drawn in by the artistic writing of the author, but it did help in continuing the reading. One reader states in her review that "Sarah Orne Jewitt draws the reader into The Country of the Pointed Firs with scenic descriptions, honest characters, and conversations written with true dialect and emotion." The scenic descriptions, honest characters and dialectical dialogue were an asset of the work in which I enjoyed very much. They depict the style of life that was lived during that time. The intricate detail that the narrator uses to describe life in Maine and to describe the people that she came in contact with was not overdone as some people described. One review stated that "Each person...seems to find satisfaction in his or her life's course...." I completely disagree with this critiques statement in that I see the narrator portraying the characters in a lonely light. She describes them as if they have all been defeated in some way by love. This is portrayed vividly through the narrator's description of Mrs. Todd in Where Pennyroyal Grew. Mrs. Todd speaks about her long-lost husband and the other man whom she really loved; yet he never knew. The narrator writes, "An absolute, archaic grief possessed this country-woman; she seemed like a renewal of some historic soul, with her sorrows and the remoteness of a daily life busied with rustic simplicities and the scent of primeval herbs" (48). This is also portrayed in the story of Poor Joanna and when she speaks of Mr. Elijah Tilley. The Country of the Pointed Firs speaks of finding fulfillment in a life where loneliness is the human condition. It is a very uniquely simplistic depiction of the everyday life in a peacefully fulfilling place.