Race And Privilege In Rural Maine At Center Of Gregory Brown's Novel 'The Lowering Days'

Jul 15, 2021

The writer Gregory Brown describes his novel "The Lowering Days" as a love letter to where he grew up in Maine. 

The novel is the story of indigenous land and people, and three very different families. "The Lowering Days" is the first pick in 2021 of NEPM's summer fiction series, when we highlight new books by New England authors.

Gregory Brown, author: There's a narrative, I think, with a lot of Maine books where we see the coast, and we see a lot of social affluence and see a lot of just very white narratives.

[In my book, there are] two white families, the Ames family and the Creel family. One is a fishing family, one's a boat-building family. And then we have a Penobscot [Nation] family, Molly and Adam Greenwind [a daughter and father].

Through the events of the book, the way they come into collision and contact and overlap mirrors a lot of the collisions that have been happening in small towns in the area where I grew up for a long, long time. I was really interested in this idea of how we escape the past or fail to escape the past, particularly in small town rural American areas.

The narrator of the book, David Almerin Ames, is the youngest son of the Ames family. He’s faced through the reflection of this tragic year of his early adolescence and what happens to him as an adult, this question of like, how do I forgive or how do I, you know, embrace a more compassionate life going forward?

Jill Kaufman, NEPM: So as this is a story about growing up and the Penobscot — why did you choose to write now about the tension — in a year or last two years as people are identifying the land they're standing on?

Well, in some ways, I didn't write about it now. I started the book in 2013. So I think that, for me, I grew up in Penobscot territory and I grew up in the '80s in Maine where, you know, some of these issues around recognition and sovereignty were coming to fruition in certain ways. I was very aware of this for a long time. Molly and Adam were characters that I had very early on in the process.

So, you know, the paper mill has been closed for several years. It's about to reopen. And I don't think it's giving away too much to say this but, Molly — she's a Penobscot teenager — she burns this mill down and she does this for many reasons.

It's an act of defense for a land that's been harmed for generations by the mill. It's also a way to protect her dad. She's terrified that if this mill reopens, her father's going to slide back into this lifestyle working, that’s kind of turned him into a machine.

Molly is not only this 14-year-old girl who sets fire to this building. She is also a typical teenager.

Yes.

I really appreciated her disdain for her father's ways. She found a trust in Falon Ames, Falon Ames is the publisher of the newspaper that she began called “The Lowering Days.” She found a trust in her to send her a letter explaining what she had done.

After the fire and after her and her dad essentially go into hiding ... she starts to realize the size of the action that she's brought down on family and she starts in that time to gain a greater appreciation for her father as a person.

Author Gregory Brown's new novel is a snapshot of three very different families living in rural Maine.
Credit Courtesy Harper Collins

As far as the letter, Molly is not going to sit back — like there's speculation that starts as soon as the fire happens. And she claims this act, you know, this is what happened, this is why I did it. So her stepping out is an act of visibility that I think is important, especially when we're talking about a Penobscot character.

So, she turns to Falon and the bond between them is complicated. Molly has an agenda with the letter and Falon has an agenda too. Falon wants to give Molly the space she's asked for. Falon also wants to sell newspapers. And something that comes up again in the book is whether Falon's activism or activist journalism — is it coming from an honest and earnest place or a place of objectification?

There's an alignment in these three families, of the children. They are not happy with their parents, but they dearly love their parents. And it boils down often to the choices they make after horrific things happen. How do they respond? David talks about making a choice between "devouring rage or infinite compassion." Can you talk a little bit about whether it's character development, or how you see those two very different weighted reactions?

It's definitely an extension of character development, but also of community development. One of the things that I see so often, and I think a lot of us see in our communities in this country, are how we take certain people and we create a narrative around them and then they're never able to escape that kind of story. Like, once you're a pariah, you're forever a pariah.

So, we leave with David maybe being closer to bringing love to people who have caused harm, but he's not all the way there either.

Check out more of NEPM’s summer fiction series here.