July 22 – 28, 2022Vol. 24, No. 7

Two Maine State Reads: Sigh, Gone and Beneficence

by Martha F. Barkley

Both Sigh, Gone: A Misfit’s Memoir of Great Books, Punk Rock, and the Fight to Fit In by Phuc Tran and Beneficence: A Novel by Meredith Hall were recommended by Christina Baker Kline, a favored Maine author who wrote Orphan Train and A Piece of the World.

I ended up reading A Piece of the World four times. I rarely read a novel even twice simply because there are so many unread to go, but Christina Olson’s story on the coast of Maine with Andrew Wyeth was mesmerizing. Just the history of the huge ship captain’s mansion was tantalizing alone. Now it is a museum to visit and Christina is buried at the foot of the hill family cemetery.

Since our visit, Andrew Wyeth and later Betsy, his wife, have died and they are buried in the Olson family cemetery along side Christina, the iconic cripple crawling the golden grassy hill to her home, painted by Wyeth, “Christina’s World.”

Now, the two books are recommended by Kline. Both are Portland area stories. Beneficence is about a loving family of five living ideally on a farm west of Portland. Their life is refreshing to experience with them. The memoir Sigh, Gone is by a twenty year Latin teacher who fled Vietnam along with his extended family. They were very fortunate to all get out safely and be reunited once in the U.S.

Both stories grab the reader from the beginning. In Sigh, Gone, the stolen bike and violent punishment from Tran’s grandmother alarmed me, but the rescue and return of the child’s bike helped to resolve the earlier bloody nose inflicted on the child by his mother and grandmother. Violence achieved both the stealing and the return of the kid’s bike. The Latin teacher author refers to Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Carlisle, PA bullies told Tran to go back where he came from.

I looked up “beneficence” in the dictionary. “Grace” and “kindliness” are the easiest synonyms for me to remember, as I read the early lyrical days of farm life in this very wholesome family of five. Almost too ideal, so the reader knows tragedy will hit.

“The creek cast a spell over us. Water running fast downhill to somewhere else, with enough rocks to make the trip noisy and interesting. The sun is on the water. In the water. You couldn’t hear anything except that ride to the sea….” Does that remind you of the sound of the lake waves along our rocky and sandy shores?

The three children are standing in the cold creek scooping up buckets and buckets of smelt and silver fish. What splashy experiences with their dad. The oldest son has his day with dad when a calf had to be shot: daydreaming on the son’s part brought sharp words from his dad. Hurt, heartbroken hurt, when it was probably exhaustion after so many chores, working together so very smoothly until the required shooting of the calf. Later, a child is tragically killed. Every page was too ideal until then.

While the memoir Sigh, Gone began with the tenuous Vietnam War escape how opposite in the beginning of each book, yet how similar in both families finding the Portland area home.

Belgrade Public Library borrowed these two Maine reads for me from away. Thank you Jared Bond and staff for keeping me reading by Great Pond and listening to the rocky shores swish with the waves of wind driven waters.

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