Vigil Harbor

Julia Glass, 1956-

Book - 2022

"A decade in the future, in the historic town of Vigil Harbor, there's been a rash of divorces among the yacht-club set; a marine biologist despairs at the state of the world; a spurned wife is bent on revenge; and the renowned architect Austin Kepner pursues a passion for building homes to withstand the escalating fury of coastal storms. Brecht, Austin's stepson, has dropped out of college and retreated home from New York after narrowly escaping one of the domestic terrorist acts that, like hurricanes, are becoming all too common. When two outsiders come to town-one a woman determined to solve the disappearance of a long-lost lover who links her to Austin, the other a man with subversive charms-the fates of Vigil Harbor'...;s residents become intertwined on one remarkable day and a long-held secret involving a selkie comes to light. In a Time of Tempests reveals Julia Glass in all of her virtuosity, braiding together multiple voices and several dazzling strands of plot in a story that mingles mortal longings and fears with immortal mysteries of the deep as well as the heart"--

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Psychological fiction
Domestic fiction
New York : Pantheon Books [2022]
Main Author
Julia Glass, 1956- (author)
First edition
Physical Description
404 pages ; 25 cm
Contents unavailable.
Review by Booklist Review

In finely detailed yet translucent descriptions of Vigil Harbor, an old coastal Massachusetts town, Glass summons a near-future ravaged by environmental devastation and "political extremes." Fledgling poet Brecht, the first narrator in this gracefully polyphonic novel, has left college in New York City and returned home after a deadly bombing. Petra, having lost her wife and her bearings, infiltrates Vigil Harbor's cocoon, seeking revenge against prominent architect Austin for the harm she believes he did long ago to her first love, Issa, an artist whose identification with the endangered creatures of the sea was strange and alarming. Mike, a scientist working for an ocean preservation group, and flinty former English teacher Margo regroup after being betrayed by their spouses. Landscaper Celestino is taken aback when Ernesto appears, claiming to be a climate scientist. Glass circles among her complex, conflicted characters, including two from her earlier novel, The Widower's Tale (2010), as violence threatens this once insulated enclave. A novelist of fluid compassion adept at creating plots anchored in the ordinary but driven into disaster, Glass adds a drop of mythology to the whirl of this intricately suspenseful story. With sorrow and humor, beauty and fury rendered in prose as exquisitely nuanced and mutable as the seacoast setting, Glass dramatizes the psychic toll of climate change.

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

National Book Award winner Glass (A House Among the Trees) adds mystery and adventure to an engrossing near-future story of the perils of climate change. Covid-19 is in the rearview, but things are far from the old normal. Serial terrorist bombings target New York City's Union Square, Cambridge's Harvard Yard, and other places throughout the U.S. as a catastrophic tsunami threatens the Northeast. Austin Kepner, a renowned architect of houses for clients seeking "postmarital solitude," welcomes his stepson, Brecht, back to their small "almost island" Massachusetts fishing town after he drops out of college. There, Brecht discovers "weird weather, weird politics, and weird relationships." The last involves strangers who show up, among them Petra Coyle, who claims to be a journalist commissioned to do a documentary on Austin; Ernesto Soltera, a purported old friend of a local landscaper; and Issa, an artist's model with no navel and "pearly skin," who the locals believe is a selkie, a creature from Celtic myth that's half-person, half-seal. As the story unfolds, Glass skillfully reveals Issa's connections to Petra and Austin, and a heart-pounding hostage episode ratchets up the tension as multiple secret identities and several romantic triangles are exposed, leading to a satisfying conclusion. Both nightmarish and enjoyable, this will have readers hooked for the long haul. (May)

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Review by Library Journal Review

Glass sets her newest in a post-pandemic, pre-apocalyptic, terrorism-ridden, not-so-distant future. On the cusp of ecological disaster, young adults lack the motivation to launch themselves into independent lives. Terrorists protesting the destruction of the planet set off bombs regularly. Food is becoming scarce; violent weather is frequent. In the town of Vigil Harbor--a self-insulated historic community in coastal Massachusetts--inhabitants struggle to maintain life as it was while doing their best to ignore life as it has become. When two strangers arrive in town, they bring with them seeds of disruption, and, in the ensuing crisis, it takes a village to solve one of their potentially deadly problems. National Book Award winner Glass (Three Junes) creates a community of privileged, mostly white inhabitants who find that change is hard; when confronted with disaster, they work together to protect the status quo. Point-of-view chapters allow access to the viewpoints of multiple generations and classes, which are read by a myriad of skilled narrators: Cassandra Campbell, Kimberly Farr, Jeremy Davidson, January LaVoy, Michael Crouch, Kirsten Potter, Mark Deakins, Hillary Huber, and Alec Glass. VERDICT Readers of general fiction will enjoy Glass's novel; recommended for all collections.--Joanna M. Burkhardt

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Review by Kirkus Book Review

An insular Massachusetts coastal town finds the world's woes at its doorstep. Judging by references scattered through the opening chapters with Glass' usual deftness, the time is about 10 years after the pandemic first hit. Climate change has become more devastating, political polarization is worse than ever, and terrorist attacks have multiplied. As the story progresses via no less than eight narrators, each sharply individualized, we are reminded that eventually the bizarre becomes normal. A monster storm three years ago blew down multiple buildings and docks in Vigil Harbor, but a local tycoon wants to build his post-divorce mansion on the cliffside anyway. His is one of a rash of marital splits that are the talk of the town, but no one bats an eyelash when a new couple formed from the remains of two divorces runs off to a survivalist commune--"one of those psycho wilderness camps," as college dropout Brecht puts it. He's a member of "Generation NL (out loud: nil)," young adults with no expectations of a livable future. Brecht was at NYU "the year of the Union Square attack," having lost his father when he was 8 to the first coronavirus wave. He returns to Vigil Harbor and goes to work for Celestino, the foreign-born landscaper who works on Brecht's stepfather Austin's fancy architecture projects. Even though he's married to a U.S. citizen, Celestino is in danger; immigrants are now totally barred, "visa raids" ongoing. There's lots more plot to come. The alleged journalist in town doing a profile of Austin is in fact pursuing him to avenge the mysterious woman they both loved and lost. An "old friend" turns up looking for Celestino, who is emphatically not happy to see him. We slowly learn there's more to Brecht's inertia than was apparent at first. The two big plot twists are more predictable than they should be, but Glass' sharply drawn portraits of people coping as best they can with a world in crisis will convince most readers to go along happily for the ride. Provocative themes, strong characterizations, and propulsive storytelling combine for another great read from Glass. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Let's say it's true that geography is destiny, place entwined with person. Would living on a peninsula--promontory, headland, bluff--make you peninsular by nature? Not someone who sticks out but someone who likes backing up to a body of water, who finds a cul-de-sac comforting, not cornering? You'd miss out on casual, unpredictable commerce with travelers merely passing through, because your town would be a place of beginnings and endings, of retreat or stasis, and after a while you'd likely notice a sameness to your neighbors. You'd all be a bunch of proud peninsulites: privileged, but also myopic. That's how some outsiders see the people of Vigil Harbor, a town that thrusts itself into the Atlantic Ocean, all but completely enclosed by restless water, deflecting the longshore current like a crooked foot aimed straight toward the rising sun. On a map, the harbor itself resembles a long blue parcel held snug beneath a muscular arm against the Massachusetts coastline. At the big toe, two of the town's oldest roads rise toward a park with a view raised high by granite cliffs. The shoreline here is rugged with rock, nothing like the bygone aprons of silken sand that once turned neighboring towns into summer playgrounds, much of that sand recently eroded by pummeling rains and swallowed by storms that no longer repay the ground they borrow. That park is where residents gather every year to watch their fireworks on a Fourth of July that lasts for days. In spirit, not much has changed on this day for a couple hundred years--not through depressions, recessions, pandemics, and definitely not during wartime. In wartime, town pride swells like a spinnaker in a sailing race at the yacht club. It begins at dawn: for two hours, the bells of the three remaining churches ring with abandon. At eight a.m.--shame on those who sleep in--veterans of wars and invasions from Vietnam to Venezuela march the twisting colonial ways or wave from an antique trolley, the high school marching band preceding them with off-key pomp and drumming. The Girl and Boy Scouts follow in turn like a ragtag militia, and a small fleet of jewel-toned vintage automobiles creeps along behind, klaxons blaring, the caboose to this train a 1969 powder-blue Volkswagen convertible owned and driven by the longest-standing elected official, a fourth-generation Harborite named June Smithson. The parade ends at the Old Burial Ground, where four hundred revolutionary patriots--most of them fishermen who tossed aside their nets to form George Washington's navy--lie beneath slabs half-swallowed by the earth, their epitaphs worn thin as a whisper. June lays a wreath on the grave of a different soldier every year, his name pulled from a big mason jar of names by the town historian. Local merchants--the chowder café, the ice-cream parlor, the yarn shop, and the nestlike boutiques owned by women wealthy enough to lose their silk shirts on the bottom line--put their wares out on the sidewalk. They offer compostable cups of lemonade, along with the molasses cookies whose recipe dates back to the town's first innkeeper. The Episcopal church hall displays local artworks and sells them to benefit a vaccination campaign or a refugee camp in some remote, far less fortunate country that few of the artists or donors could place on any map. Roving bands of tankard-wielding reenactors sing sea shanties and use their role-playing as justification to drink too much rum at noon. The blazing sun makes them drunker still. If the summer's catch is decent, somebody runs the Scholarship Lobster Raffle. Tall-masted sailboats swan around the harbor, backyard grills ignite, and families turn from feuding to playing horseshoes and croquet. As day seeps into the folds of night, streams of sunburnt Harborites converge on foot at Emmons Head; spread their blankets, some seasons hem to hem, others distanced like tiny islands; and open their bottles of wine. Before the fireworks begin, they clamber to their feet, older folks feeling the kinks in their joints, and they sing the town song (first verse only). Take to your boats; oh, men, take to the sea! Hoist anchor, loft sail, like your fathers 'fore ye! Leave behind hearth; oh, leave behind brides; We are sworn to the ocean, our fate in her tides. This be our fortune, the bounty down under. Leave whales to New Bedford; 'tis cod we shall plunder. Women and babes, let thy vigilance burn Until to the harbor your mariners return! People who now make their living from forces unseen--chips and codes, chromosomes and neutrinos--are moved to tears by a cornball song from an era they count their lucky stars never to have lived in. In the picturesque gloaming, they stand and sing and shed all sense of irony, skepticism, threats of despair. It is an intimacy both true and artificial. As an almost-island, Vigil Harbor has not suffered as badly during waves of contagion as other, landlocked towns. It has so far, you might say willfully, remained aloof from political extremes. Town Meetings remain bipartisan in a cantankerous but ultimately collegial fashion now regarded as arcane in most parts of the country. In the last election, only seventeen residents registered as members of the EndTimer Party, the angry spinoff of the failed campaign to elect Kip Kittredge to the White House. But unsettling times will unsettle everyone. Struck by a recent rash of divorces, beginning with a pair of well-known yacht club members who swapped their respective marriages for a shared membership in a survivalist commune, Vigil Harbor is a little less secure about its resilience. Because love, as firmly as war, is stitched deep into town lore. Approach by water and, at the mouth of the harbor, you must circumnavigate Ruby Rock, originally Arabella's Rock, Arabella the widow of Samuel Thesper. They were married hardly a month when Samuel launched his fishing dory and small crew to challenge the entry of a British ship in search of patriot outlaws. He meant to hold them off long enough that a meeting of rebels in a local sail loft might disband and hide. But he was shot through the chest by a hotheaded Regular equally intent on breaching the harbor. Samuel fell overboard, and his body washed ashore on the island, a place used for drying cod on vast wooden racks. Two days after he was buried, Arabella swam to the island and threw herself from a ledge on the far side. Three women who had rowed in pursuit made it there only in time to bring her body back. She was interred next to Samuel, near the peak of the burial ground. Such stories, though always a little suspect in their fairy-tale pathos, are countless in a town like this one. Towns like this one are, after all, mostly the sum of their stories, or the voices that tell the stories. Add to those stories this one. ### Brecht Like every basic Saturday night, the windows in my room are shak­ing in their frames. Not an earthquake but my stepfather's music. He stays up way late and plays it so maxed up, basso profundo, that the walls in the living room vibrate clear to the third floor. It pumps through my veins, frazzles my nerves. He gets a river of random heri­tage tuneshop flowing along, thumpa thumpa thump , everything from Nina Simone to Code Dread, and whether there are guests or it's just him and Mom or even just him, he dances. Austin is a dance maniac. He says dance is his number one narcotic. But sometimes he also breaks out that champion leaf he gets from he won't say where. He promises Mom it's throwback, the kind they swear won't pickle your judgment, and it does have a smell more like some weirdass tea, less like skunk. He only smokes if it's just him or he's only with Mom, though I don't think she smokes. Austin would never smoke with clients, and all friends, he claims, plus even strangers you pass on the street, are future if not past or present clients. So the whole basic world is a client. Sometimes I vext him to turn it down. Maybe he does, by a mar­gin that doesn't matter. He'll yell up the stairs, "Earplugs, dude!" in that diluvian-but-who-cares tone, and I'm like, what if I slept through something aster­oidal? Austin says don't be melodramatic. He says I'm a doomseer, too typical of my generation. He says it lightly, in a faux-jokey voice, but when he doesn't think I'm in earshot, I've heard him refer to Gen­eration F: failure, fuckup, fatalist; take your pick. If you want to get poetic, flotsam. Others call us Generation NL (out loud, nil ): No Life, as in having no lives worth living, or maybe as in Get a Life, which it's true a lot of us cannot seem to do, or not according to some fos­sil definition of "grown-up." As in, going out there to Be Something. People who are hard on us like that tell us to look at the kids who came of age in the pandemic years, the ones who survived and even, somehow, figured out how to live lives of their own while ducking in and out of lockdown during the surges. Austin, who has no kids genetically his own, says our allergy to independence (that's what he calls it) is the fault of our parents, but collectively, not individually--because he wouldn't want to get Mom too far down. I was twelve when she married Austin, so there wasn't much he could do, he says, except root from the sidelines. As if me and Mom are some kind of sporting event. It's so obviously not her fault that I boomeranged home, that I'm in this state she sees as deep limbo, but she's always felt responsible for who I am. I think she can't help feeling guilty about us losing Dad--which is nuts, but I get it. Maybe it's also middle age and the whole mortality thing, but she's in this fragile place right now. I guess we are doomseers, me and Noam and the rest of us, but why shouldn't we be? We're not Timers, we're not that stooge. No way would we flee to the deep woods just because we're afraid the next bomb will flash-fry our own town square, the next virus turn that town square into an emergency graveyard. Nor are we desperate enough to join the Restitution Corps, forget the army! But we see that the bar's going up on surviving what's to come, some of which is certain, some not. Like the growing list of Hot Spots on the Global Climate Watch. (Picture a map punctured with cigarette burns.) I heard one of Austin's clients saying that his son's college has a major called survival studies. Me and Noam have a bet going. It's about the next tsunami, the one that some seismologists are sure will be set off soon, maybe even tomorrow, by a slip in plates that meet somewhere off the coast of Spain. The projections show it pointed in our direction. So we've taken positions on exactly what date the big wave will rise, on how much time it will take to cross the ocean, on how long a stretch of coast will take the max hit, on the number of fatalities. We're allowed to change our minds as we please. It's a subject we like what-iffing. We know that unless there's some futuristic warning system in place, we might not be alive to see who wins. Our town is bull's-eye center of the wave's projected path. (Farewell to Cape Cod, or what's left of it.) Anyone who thinks that our being up on a cliff will protect us, that the wave will just crash politely into the granite ledge and slither back, is totally stooge. The wave will roar up and over Emmons Head, then horizontalize its King Kong fury, probably even smash off parts of the ledge. All the fine old antique houses? Four centu­ries' worth of driftwood in a flash. My stepfather's clients' brand-new houses? Lethal sheets of fractured steel and glass turned into shrapnel. Excerpted from Vigil Harbor: A Novel by Julia Glass All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.