Beach Reads: Cape Cod continues to inspire authors

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By Janet Clapp
Books Checked Out

Vermont as a vacation spot offers the physical beauty of mountains, lakes, rivers, forests and meadows, but it is the only New England state that lacks saltwater beaches; for this, one has to travel to another state. In New England, the arm of Massachusetts known as Cape Cod is one of the most popular destinations for those seeking the sea. Many books, fact and fiction, have been written about this notable piece of land.

‘Cape Cod,’ by William Martin

This novel tells the story of Cape Cod as experienced by two families, the Bigelows and the Hilyards, beginning on the Mayflower when Elder Ezra Bigelow and Stranger Jack Hilyard take a dislike to each other. In the present day the two families dispute the development of land that has changed hands between them over the centuries.

“History had survived in the gentle curves of Route 6A, in the magisterial sweep of the Great Beach, even in the junk that burned-out business executives sold when they bought captains’ houses and put up Antique signs. Of course, for every 6A curve there was a neon-and-macadam mile of Route 28. And for every old house, there was a strip mall.”

A wide array of characters — from Nausets to Quakers to pirates — exhibit greed, lust, revenge, piety and love as the wilderness is settled and the United States is built.

‘The Big House: A Century in the Life of an American Summer Home,’ by George Howe Colt

A finalist for the 2003 Nonfiction National Book Award, this book chronicles a summer home on Cape Cod.

“I have been making this trip for forty-two years. My family has been making it for nearly a century, starting in 1903, when my great-grandfather brought his family down by horse and carriage along the dirt road that curled from town to town before this highway was built.”

Colt shares his childhood memories at the Big House as he tells the family history of the people that built and maintained it.

“The house has watched over five weddings, four divorces, three deaths, several nervous breakdowns, an untold number of conceptions, and countless birthday parties, anniversaries, and love affairs… For nearly a century, my family has thought of the Big House as an unchanging place in a changing world, a sanctuary we have assumed we would always be able to return to, as would our children and our children’s children.”

‘The Orphans of Race Point,’ by Patry Francis

In this work of fiction, set in Provincetown, at the end of the Cape, two children are affected by the murder of one child’s mother.

“The gray-shingled houses that huddled tightly together in the village usually made her feel secure. But at three a.m., the spit of sand surrounded by dark, unpredictable waters seemed particularly vulnerable.”

Young Hallie “naïvely, optimistically, bravely believing that she, one small girl, could cure a tragedy like the one that had visited Gus — with a book and two fish,” tries to help the traumatized Gus. As the years pass, their lives intersect intermittently, weaving a novel about relationships.

‘The Outermost House: A Year of Life on the Great Beach of Cape Cod,’ by Henry Beston

Published originally in 1928, this is naturalist and writer Beston’s experience of a year on the Cape.

“Outermost cliff and solitary dune, the plain of ocean and the far, bright rims of the world, meadow land and marsh and ancient moor: this is Eastham; this the outer Cape. Sun and moon rise here from the sea, the arched sky has an ocean vastness, the clouds are now of ocean, now of earth. Having known and loved this land for many years, it came about that I found myself free to visit there, and so I built myself a house upon the beach.”

Throughout the seasons, he observes birds, insects, weather and the sound of the surf. “For it is a mistake to talk of the monotone of ocean or of the monotonous nature of its sound. The sea has many voices. Listen to the surf, really lend it your ears, and you will hear in it a world of sounds: hollow boomings and heavy roarings, great watery tumblings and tramplings, long hissing seethes, sharp, rifle-shot reports, splashes, whispers, the grinding undertone of stones, and sometimes vocal sounds that might be the half-heard talk of people in the sea.”

The Rutland Free Library has these and other books about Cape Cod. If you don’t make it to the Cape this summer, experience it at your library.

Happy reading!

Janet Clapp

Janet Clapp is an adult services librarian at Rutland Free Library.

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