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'The Lowering Days': Gregory Brown's Debut Novel Of Contention And Compassion In Maine Community

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Gregory Brown

In Gregory Brown’s novel "The Lowering Days," protagonist David Almerin Ames and his family live in Maine along the Penobscot River. The young boys have an affinity for the natural world. That love was influenced by their parents Arnoux and Falon. The family has an abiding respect, too, for the people of the Penobscot Nation and the wider community. Falon, runs a community newspaper that gives voice to the indigenous and white issues in and around Penobscot. But then something happens that is beyond the control of any one of these characters. How will the family survive the events that have been set in motion?

Highlights of the Interview with Gregory Brown

On the fictional setting of the novel
(The novel) is a bit of a love letter to the place I grew up, which is, the Penobscot River Valley. It's a fictionalized version of that place that I'm writing about...It focuses on the intersection of three families in a small fictional town in the Penobscot River Valley, a place where the law, like the land, is very much alive and the land has also been very much used over time as a resource, exploited, degraded. And it asks this question of "Who does land belong to?" and "What does it mean to protect land?" What does it mean to live together with land in a way that one is upholding or shepherding it and, also, why is it so often that we see in small towns a continued cycle of resentment and often violence and why is it so hard for people to embrace compassion as opposed to those more damaging impulses?

On the clean-water movements of the 1980s as depicted in the novel
It was the time of the clean-water movements. It was also the time in Maine, specifically, as the Maine Indian Land Claims Act Settlement when the Main tribes were on the verge of and ultimately were awarded huge financial reparations that were primarily used to buy land back. So the question of defending the environment and the question of returning land to its...I don't want to say "rightful," but its rightful shepherds was very alive in that time period. And it's interesting, too, like this question of what is an act of eco-defense and what is an impact of active environmental terrorism and how different languages or different words are applied to different actions. So I wanted that question to be at the heart of the book, kind of the morality of a crime and holding something that needs a human defense. In this case, it's a paper mill that's been contaminating the river and down through the bay for many generations because of all the harm that's been caused by the human elements. There's a direct correlation between that time period and what we're continuing to see as far as environmental activism and the great strides that I think are being made today.

On the house that Arnoux and Falon create for their sons
The sanctuary that Arnoux and Falon create, how they build their house on a peninsula and the river where they're going to raise their kids. It gets into the darker side of a sanctuary or an obsession. You make this — what you think is a perfect place to try to contain your life. You're closing out the rest of the world and losing perspective. And for two people who live in a place, they're so dependent on community. That can have dangerous ripples. So I found when I was writing the book that I wanted these families to go deeply into their own kind of sanctuary spaces and then be forced to move back out into the community spaces. That's something that creates a certain amount of tension when they're moving inward and realizing they need to move back outward and what they want to have in their sanctuary style lives in conflict with what the community needs in the moment.

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Yvette Benavides can be reached at bookpublic@tpr.org.