There’s something about a camp on the coast of Maine – the mingled scents of pine and seawater, the sharp briny salt of the food, the way the weather can go from sweating hot to a brisk chill in a few hours. The seagulls and the small boat engines. And the houses themselves, great ramshackle shingled beasts from another era, passed through generations.
Just such a house is the setting and center of Sarah Moriarty’s lyrical debut novel “North Haven.” The house and its future – and past – are the core here, around which a family regroups to try to understand loss and change.
It’s a family in the midst of a generational shift. The Willoughby clan has had losses, with the recent passing away of their mother and, three years earlier, their father. The two brothers and two sisters return over a long summer holiday weekend, but it will be their first visit without either parent there. The children are now the adults, and the challenges that accompany adulthood come head-to-head with the entrenched ways they treat each other as siblings.
Libby, the eldest sister, is struggling with being pulled in too many directions – she finds herself taking on responsibilities her mother had always handled, and she feels taken for granted by her siblings. She’s uptight and repressed, and is harboring a secret that she fears acknowledging either to herself or to her siblings.
Gwen also has a secret, though it’s not long held a secret from readers – living a promiscuous lifestyle has lead to an unplanned pregnancy, and she’s unsure whether or not she can honestly consider herself ready for the responsibilities of parenting.
Danny is the younger of the brothers and is hit hard by the loss of their mother. Depressed to the point of having thoughts of suicide, he has dropped out of college and needs desperately to be cared for without knowing how, or by whom. “Poor Danny,” Gwen thinks, “he just wanted a little more life and a little less death.”