The Mirror of Maine

The Maine Community in Myth and Reality

A Let's Talk About It series

These books explore community life in Maine. What defines community? What values have been associated with community life in Maine, and how many of these values still exist today? What are the confinements or darker realities that exist in Maine communities? (Libraries can select 5 titles)

  • A Maine Hamlet by Lura Beam
  • Wildfire Loose by Joyce Butler
  • Salem’s Lot by Stephen King
  • Twelve Journeys in Maine by Wesley McNair
  • The Weir by Ruth Moore
  • 3 Nations Anthology edited by Valerie Lawson

“The Mirror of Maine” opens new doors to Maine’s literature and her extraordinary history and culture for Maine readers. These books that reveal aspects of life in our state can bring deeper knowledge and appreciation for what makes Maine a special place and for authors who express those ideas. Even as we adjust to social and technological changes in our time as others adjusted before us, we are reminded how influential books have always been and how great stories provide an opportunity to discuss continuity and change in Maine life as we enter the next millennium.

These books, ranging from the turn of the twentieth century to modern times, allow a century-long view of community life. Issues to be discussed include the following: What defines a community? What values have been associated with the community in Maine life? How many of these values still exist today? What forces of contemporary culture have undermined community, and how? What are the confinements or darker realities that exist in Maine communities?

Since most of these books are based on actual towns, readers can consider what is real and what is myth about Maine towns, their patterns of daily life, and the values held by the residents. King’s story, with evil masked as the commonplace, provides a foil for the discussions.

Books in the Series

Lura Beam, A Maine Hamlet

This classic 1957 non-fiction study of life in a small eastern community has long been considered a major Maine work. Bringing her professional research skills to the town of her childhood, Beam created a book in a niche of its own, part memoir, part town history, and part sociological study. Beam has a vision of the past; she observes daily life through family, religion, education, the arts, and leisure, but she sees the past without nostalgia. Her perspectives give the reader an abiding sense of the individuals and their community, capturing with great resonance the essence of life in innumerable Maine settlements at the turn of the twentieth century. Communities like this don’t exist in Maine any more: How have we changed? Has change been for the better? Can zoning and land use planning be fashioned to save what is best about a way of life?

Joyce Butler, Wildfire Loose: The Week Maine Burned

A highly popular and widely-read book, Wildfire Loose addresses the great conflagration that destroyed large swatches of Maine in 1947. Readers have long commented that one of the best aspects of the book is the sense of altruism and community evident in the stricken towns,. Many neighbors whose property was saved were committed to helping others whose livelihoods were destroyed. The effects of a natural disaster in a community are timeless. What parallels can we find with the ice storm in the winter of 1998? Is a community’s response to disaster different in modern times? How has our sense of altruism changed?

Stephen King, ‘Salem’s Lot

One of America’s best storytellers of this century, Stephen King introduced the idea of the small, creepy Maine town to millions of readers. What appears to be quaint and innocuous is revealed to be quite the opposite. While many people profess they don’t and won’t read King, his skill in crafting a story deserves thoughtful consideration. A story of vampires that arrive in Portland and invade a nearby town, ‘Salem’s Lot is considered one of King’s best. How Jerusalem’s Lot and her residents were perceived initially can be compared to the subsequent events that changed the town forever. The evil of vampires that King describes is mythical, stuff of the imagination, but evil exists in many forms in all our towns. How do Maine communities react when faced with real evil? Can evil be effectively addressed and conquered?

Wesley McNair, Twelve Journeys in Maine

Readers like poetry but they are often intimidated by it. Twelve Journeys in Maine, by a living Maine poet, presents readable poems that make poetry accessible to the ordinary reader. Rural Maine, the subject of the poems, is too often underrepresented in discussion about Maine life. In reading these poems, one gains an understanding of the sense of isolation encountered in rural places. The poems’ strength and contemporary content provide rich subjects for discussion.

Ruth Moore, The Weir

Ruth Moore takes us back to the coast with a light-hearted look at a traditional Downeast community. The Weir follows the daily routines and the challenges encountered by a family whose sustenance depends primarily on the tending of a weir, which traps fish with the rise and fall of the tides. The family’s strength is derived from the relationships it has with kin and neighbors. Is this lighter view an accurate portrayal? How does it resonate with our own images of seacoast towns? What do coastal towns share with other rural Maine communities? Are the values altered or lost by the infiltration of tourists and shopping meccas?

Richard Russo, Empire Falls

[This book has been added to the original book list accompanying this series]

“After all, what was the whole wide world but a place for people to yearn for their heart’s impossible desires, for those desires to become entrenched in defiance of logic, plausibility, and even the passage of time, as eternal as polished marble.”

Russo’s depiction of life in a depressed mill town in central Maine where the working class/ blue collar workers have little safety net. Miles Roby has worked at the Empire Grill for 20 years after his aspirations for a better life are shattered when he is called home from college to care for his ailing mother. What keeps him in this small town where he is seemingly “stuck”, and where his soon to be ex-wife, needy father, and town politics via the wealthy widow who owns much of the town all make his life more difficult?


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