The Book of the Mandolin Player

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BookOfTheMandolinPlayer_lg Anne Britting Oleson
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Bink Books
284 pp. ● 6×9
$15.95 (pb) ● $8.95 (eb)
ISBN 978-1-943837-04-5 (pb)
● 978-1-943837-05-2 (eb)
FICTION – Literary
FICTION – Maine

About the Book

Meg Cross lives in a small Maine town with a family that is too big, too loud, too everything.

Life in a small Maine town: where everyone is related by blood or marriage, where everyone knows everything there is to know about everyone else, and where there is no anonymity. So it seems for Meg Cross, living in an old farmhouse on the side of a mountain with her young niece, Maeve. It’s easy to fall in line with her family’s expectations, but easy, too, to resent them, when she’s certain there’s something more out there for her. Then tragedy strikes to the core of who and what she believes she is.

How does a person remake a life from all the broken pieces? Meg finds herself forced to re-examine all she formerly found important, and in the process, comes to realize that, though it might chafe, there is strength to be drawn from the place she comes from, and the people to whom she is truly known.

For Readers and Book Clubs:
Reading Guide


Praise

The Book of the Mandolin Player is deeply affecting on so many levels that it is difficult to shake the story from the mind. Anne Britting Oleson’s soft touch and strong storytelling make this an exceptional debut novel.” — Frank O Smith, Review, Portland Press Herald

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“It’s an interesting story, with characters, places and emotional atmosphere strongly reminiscent of those in Jennifer Wixson’s Sovereign novels — small-town Mainers, well-educated, wry-humored, grappling with problems of life, love and the pursuit of people who are chronically not there.” — Dana Wilde, Review, centralmaine.com


Excerpt

one

When Maeve looked up at me with those enormous brown eyes, so unlike anyone’s in the family, and said, “He’s coming,” she might have been announcing the next advent of Christ, so weighty was her tone.

Or of Van Morrison. She had slapped Beautiful Vision into the CD player over the sink when she had joined me in the kitchen. It had been the first thing, even before she shed the oversized barn coat and hung it carefully on the peg next to the door; one must, after all, have one’s priorities straight. As she moved past me at the counter, I caught her slight scent, of hay and November wind.

We were making almond bark for Christmas. With all the members of this family, attached by blood, marriage, or sometimes (so it seemed) just plain duct tape, making enough for everyone meant we had to start early. The weekend before Thanksgiving, in this case. My eyes strayed to the calendar tacked to the porch door, where my sister-in-law Shelly’s name occupied Thursday’s square, bold and red in case we forgot where we were to go for dinner.

Maeve was watching me. She had always been the most watchful child I’d ever met—and as a former schoolteacher I’d met many—a child who rarely spoke, but who absorbed all that was going on, spongelike. Even while she watched me, she was chopping the almonds on the cutting board, one hand anchoring the point of the knife, while the other lifted the blade slightly, then pressed it down again into the neat pile of nutmeats. She handled the knife like a chef, or an assassin. I smiled at her, but she did not smile back; I hadn’t expected it.

In my head I could hear my brother’s wife’s strident voice: be careful, don’t hurt yourself, as well as my personal favorite of her admonitions, do you think you ought? As in do you think you ought to be letting that child use that knife? Yet for all her protesting, I knew full well Shelly would never dare try to stop Maeve herself. One look from those fathomless eyes and Shelly would stop dead in her tracks.

The chocolate was melted in the double boiler. I brought the pan from the stove top to the counter, where Maeve lifted the board and scraped the nuts into the mix.

“Which one is this?” she asked as I plied the wooden spoon.

“The sweet one.” Shelly liked her almond bark sugary to the point where my teeth quivered just thinking about it.

Maeve’s expression indicated her disgust. At the candy, or the recipient, I was not prepared to say. I smiled at her again. A stray beam of weak November sunlight fell at an angle through the window onto her dark hair, picking out the reds in the deep brown. Beautiful hair. Maeve was the only one in the family with that color. The rest of us were mousy brown—even her own father, changeling that he had been, had been more like us than her.

It was at this point that Maeve made her pronouncement. “He’s coming.”

Maybe it was Arthur she meant. Her father, my brother.

I caught my breath and threw her a glance. She was watching me intently, not giving anything away. I waited, to see if there was more. The light on her hair was like a halo. No, for Maeve was no angel. There were fires burning in that girl that belied any cherubic tendencies. Rather, the light was a coronet, and she was Maeve the warrior queen.

There was nothing more.

I poured the chocolate mixture, and Maeve shook the pan to even it out. For some reason my chest felt tight, bands squeezing the air out of my lungs. Van Morrison launched into “Dweller on the Threshold.”

If anything described Maeve, that was it. She dwelt on a threshold.

I watched her slide the pan into the refrigerator. She closed the door and dusted off her hands.

“Just don’t get mad,” she said before she slipped out of the kitchen.