Book review: “Just East of Nowhere”

Scot Lehigh captures the Eastport area in its landscapes and seascapes, its sometimes bleakness and its insularity.
A statue of a fisherman holding a fish by the ferry terminal in Eastport, Maine
At Eastport Harbor. Photo by Roger McCord.

Just East of Nowhere
By Scot Lehigh. Islandport Press, 2023, $18.95.
Review by Catherine J.S. Lee

Raised in Eastport, Pulitzer Prize‑nominated journalist Scot Lehigh left after high school for Waterville and Boston and Cape Elizabeth, but in his debut novel he returns to his roots for the setting of a coming‑of‑age story.

Just East of Nowhere weaves together the stories of three teenagers, Dan Winters, Susan Jamieson and Griff Kimball. In this gritty narrative of troubled young people trying to find their paths to meaningful adulthood, the choices they make, are forced into or simply let happen lead as frequently to heartbreak as they do happiness.

headshot of Scot Lehigh
Scot Lehigh

Lehigh captures the Eastport area in its landscapes and seascapes, its sometimes bleakness and its insularity. Basketball rules at Shead High School. The parking locales that lusty teenagers frequented for privacy are mentioned — sorry, the secrets are out. Local establishments and landmarks, bearing their actual names, provide verisimilitude and a taste of local history.

A returning character heading toward Eastport notes “the long straight stretch towards Quoddy Village, an outlying residential cluster built to house workers for a massive tidal power project, whose abandonment in the mid‑1930s was a grievance that old‑timers still nurtured against the federal government.”

The returning character is Dan Winters, who has come back for his mother’s funeral after a fatal car accident. Dan does not know his father but has learned a dark secret about his parents’ history, a secret that drives him to a couple of encounters that finally set the story straight. He tries to conceal from his college classmates another secret as well: he spent time in the juvenile corrections center for mercilessly beating up another boy.

That other boy is Griff Kimball, the younger brother of Eastport’s celebrated athletic hero, who “had led an otherwise overmatched team all the way to the state championship game.” Griff, to his parents’ disapproval, falls in with a ne’er‑do‑well student who has moved from Jonesport, and it is he, Sonny Beal, who leads Griff into some very bad decisions.

Some of those decisions concern Susan Jamieson, at one time Dan’s girlfriend, who rebuffs his advances when he tries to go farther than she’s comfortable with. Later on, she drifts into a relationship with Griff, until everything explodes in one final confrontation among the three, egged on by Sonny Beal.

Lehigh brings a journalist’s eye and voice to his narrative, delving into the minds of his characters but also objectively reporting their thoughts and motivations.

For Dan, “The knowledge of his paternity was made heavier still by the way it hung in his consciousness like a thunderhead in middle distance — neither close enough to threaten immediate danger nor remote enough to lapse beyond regular worry.”

For Griff, “Was it so bad to want to stay where you had grown up? That was what the vast majority of people did, after all. Yes, the overachievers might go away to elite schools and move to tony neighborhoods in bustling cities and jet around the globe on business and spend their vacations touring Europe or on safari in Africa, but most people lived their lives where they were raised.”

For Susan, “She had completely forgotten asking Dan to write, and now she was angry that he had. After all, she had said that back when she thought he’d done what he’d done out of some crazy sense that he had to defend her honor. And he’d let her think that, even though it hadn’t been that way at all. Maybe he’d just assumed she’d never find out. But she had, and as far as she was concerned, that had changed everything.”

By the end of the novel, the three major characters have grown — and grown up — and made their peace with the difficulties and tribulations they experienced. If a reader is looking for a happy ending with everything all tied up with a bow, this is not it. But while there is loss, there is also redemption, and that makes for a satisfying and appropriate conclusion to a novel that does not shy away from the tougher aspects of life in a small town and the hard and sometimes misguided choices made there.

Scot Lehigh, a Boston Globe columnist and editorial writer, will be the first author featured in Eastport’s new Community Book Club, a bimonthly gathering that will include both a discussion of the selected book and a reading by the author. Lehigh will be presenting his book Just East of Nowhere on Aug. 5 at the Eastport Arts Center, 36 Washington St. The book discussion, without the author present, will take place at 4 p.m. and Lehigh will be on hand for a reading and discussion at 7 p.m.

Sign up for the Downeast Monitor, a free newsletter produced by The Maine Monitor, to stay informed of what’s happening in Washington County. This story was originally published by the Quoddy Tides, and is republished here with permission. 


Catherine J.S. Lee, Quoddy Tides

Catherine J.S. Lee is an internationally-known haiku poet and the author of the short-fiction collection Island Secrets: Stories from the Coast of Maine (Sea Smoke Press, 2022). She is a book reviewer for The Quoddy Tides.
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