Off Island by Lara Tupper (Encircle Publications, 2020)
In Off Island, Lara Tupper creates an imagined history of artist Paul Gauguin, famed for his vibrant paintings from the South Seas, visiting an island off the coast of Maine. A hundred years later, a contemporary painter finds the paintings and letters Gauguin left behind and learns that maybe Gauguin also left a family in Maine.
The two stories run parallel. While Gauguin is in Maine painting and writing letters home, his wife Metter Gad is in Denmark, raising five children and trying to make ends meet. In 2003, Pete is a painter and Molly holds down the fort. Both Gauguin and Pete wrestle with addiction issues. The most powerful part of the book is Mette's story. Tupper is careful to give her an independent voice and not make her a victim. The two story lines intersect convincingly by the end.
Tupper teases out coastal themes that work with the story. Artists paint seascapes; characters are at sea. There is tension between permanent residents and outsiders, the fishing community and artists who live there and the city tourists. These themes and conflicts give the story a nice heft.
Off Island is a terrific book for anyone who enjoys fictionalized art history and historical fiction with a braided contemporary narrative.
Lara Tupper has written short stories, an earlier novel, and a screenplay, and is a jazz and pop singer. She taught at Rutgers University for many years and now presents writing workshops and retreats in Massachusetts where she now lives.
Read my Rose City Reader author interview with Lara Tupper here, where Lara talked about Off Island, the authority of a narrator's voice, Zooming her book tour, and other fun bookish stuff.
Read an article about Lara Tupper and Off Island from The Boothbay Register, where Lara talks about her book and the research that went into it, as well as growing up in Maine.