Snow Island Trilogy
In the spring of 1988, I lived on a small island in Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island, with a year-round population of 125 people and 300 deer. The island has two stores in shack-like structures where you can get the essentials (canned soup, cookies that might or might not be stale, flashlight batteries) — no restaurants, movie theaters, or motels — and one paved road. I stayed in a friend's summer cottage, where I huddled by a space heater at night and listened to the single station the radio pulled in from a college on the mainland. I did not have a telephone, a computer, a television, or a car. In the mornings, I sat on the sun porch and wrote. If two cars went by in the space of five minutes on the road below, I knew that either the ferry was coming in or the dump was open. These were the only events that generated traffic on the island. I became fascinated by the quiet beauty of the place and the hardscrabble lives of the New Englanders who lived there.
The Snow Island trilogy grew out of the time I spent that spring, writing and reading and riding my bicycle around the island. I began with a collection of stories drawn from what I learned about the history of the island and observed of the islanders' lives, most of whom were either quahoggers (a quahog is a large clam) or construction workers employed by the summer people. Originally I conceived of the book as a collection of linked short stories that would span the century and focus on various island characters and events, but I found that the life of Alice, daughter of the island's storekeeper during World War II, would not be contained in twenty or thirty pages. So my linked short stories became a trilogy, with the first volume, Snow Island, set between 1941 and 1943. The second volume, Evening Ferry, is set in 1965 and 1966, and the third, Island Light, in 1990 and 1991.
In writing this collection of books, I was interested in looking at a small New England community over time. The power of place in defining people's lives is one theme. Families and the secrets they keep from each other is another. War and its impact on the isolated island is yet another. George Tibbits, a veteran of World War I, is a main character in Snow Island, and the book documents the start of World War II and how the war years change the lives of the islanders. Evening Ferry takes place when the United States is just entering the war in Vietnam. Island Light follows a collection of characters in the months leading up to the first Gulf War. Together the books tell the stories of two island families spanning three generations and the reach of the wars their men go off to fight.
As I have grown older, I have become drawn increasingly to out of the way places where the past is still present — small towns and villages and islands. The Snow Island trilogy is my attempt to bring such a place and its people to life. There's a resilience to my island characters that I admire. Setting my novels on an island has forced me to explore the interior worlds and struggles of my characters, looking closely at how they are shaped by experience. What do we do with the lives we are given? For me this is the fundamental story.