Monkey Bay



Monkey Bay
Viking Penguin, 1989

Marilla Pratt, living in an isolated Maine town, fell in love with a wanderer named Tucker Burchard, but married instead a safe man who loved her and gave her a daughter, Hannah. Then, nineteen years after he left, Tucker returns to court Marilla once more, and she simply, abruptly moves with him to a desolate house on Monkey Bay, abandoning Hannah to nocturnal visits from her father. Now Hannah, beautiful at twenty-three, has moved in with her mother and Tucker on Monkey Bay with a dream of her own to fulfill—a dark one of revenge. Monkey Bay is a stark, beautiful novel about people who lead inescapable lives, tortured by the ties that bind them; yet they endure, capable of the most transforming love.

Praise and Reviews

Set in a coastal Maine town, Ford’s engaging, bittersweet novel keeps the reader vacillating between hope and dread… Captured in spare, ringingly authentic dialogue and leavened with ironic humor, Ford’s close-up on quietly desperate lives, like Walker Evans’s famous photos, is beautiful and disturbing.
Publishers Weekly

The author of such spare, bright, quizzically humored novels as The Playhouse (1980) and Ivory Bright (1986) offers her fourth tale about gawky-passioned women and similarly destiny-embedded men. Here, Ford moves all the dogged dither of coping and pairing from the seedy old suburbs of Boston to the steely authority of up-Maine seasons—and the salt-air deliquescence of a tiny Maine town…. A sad, wise comedy—with dazzling recognitions of place, people, and backwater ethos.
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

In a brief introductory note to Monkey Bay Elaine Ford writes that the novel “is about the experience of living, rather than the experience of living in Maine.” It’s a point that’s well taken. For while Ms. Ford’s fourth novel is accurate about a thousand details of life on the northern coast of New England, there’s absolutely nothing regional, in a limiting sense, about her story… A realistic, often unexpectedly funny and invariably well-written novel. In its unsparing but sympathetic treatment of its characters and locale, Elaine Ford’s book reminds me of Andrew Wyeth’s stark paintings, which use the terrain of northern New England to explore a much larger emotional landscape.
New York Times

Although set in Maine, Elaine Ford’s fourth novel isn’t a simple retelling of what it’s like to grow up in an isolated coastal town. Free from the anecdotal humor often associated with Maine, hers is a complex novel about growing up, love, marriage, incest, anger and despair. It tells the story of one family’s desperate struggle to survive, to love and accept one another… The beauty of Ford’s prose and the power of her imagery make Monkey Bay a joy to read and a book to savor long after you turn its final pages.
Boston Herald

Ford is not a native Maine writer… but she has put her time teaching writing at the University of Maine to good use. She has a wonderful ear and eye—capturing the vernacular of the state’s working class and the rhythms of life so close to the sea… But a greater achievement is the skill with which Ford enriches the daily drudgery of her people, raising them out of their circumstances so that we can embrace them. Small things count with her, and as a result we care about these small lives… The result is a tightly interwoven tale that starts out hooking her characters together and winds up drawing us in as well with homely truths about the human condition.
Philadelphia Inquirer

Elaine Ford’s fourth novel is about legacy, revenge, and isolation, but mostly it’s about love—love as redemption and love’s regenerative and destructive powers. Monkey Bay is funny, moving and beautifully written.
San Francisco Chronicle

Monkey Bay, Elaine Ford’s fourth novel, is about divorce, family alienation, disengaged lives and wounds so deep they don’t leave scars on the surface. It’s a quiet, dignified book full of traces of humor and sadness that, like bits of tattered cloth, somehow bind themselves into a coherent, touching whole… Monkey Bay is a testament to Ms. Ford’s descriptive, painterly writing.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Ford has employed a fluid structure in which the past and present exist simultaneously. Her method of narration further contributes to the sense of observing this family’s pain from a remote point. As the novel progresses, the characters become more and more identified with the harsh, craggy landscape in which they live; and, viewed like a wild coastline from afar, they achieve an elemental and awesome power… Monkey Bay traces the evolving and revolving cycles of family ties and all they offer, from oppression to redemption… This is a disturbing tale, told with integrity. And, though the characters of Monkey Bay may not prosper, they do endure.
Washington Post Book World