Largely, now, it was not anger he felt, but rather a kind of bonescraping, quiet, ever-present sorrow. To come to the place that was supposed to stay the same, to come and find it changed. Dr. Miller had warned him against what he called “the geography cure.” You can’t fix yourself by going somewhere else, he’d said. You’ll always take yourself along.
(from The End of the Point)
The End of the Point is a novel about family, place, and how one’s identity is affected by both. Elizabeth Graver chronicles the lives of the Porter family over nearly 60 years as they live and love and congregate at their summer home on Ashaunt Point in Buzzard’s Bay. The family’s ties to Ashaunt are so strong, even the military presence couldn’t keep them away during the summer of 1942, where the book begins.
The Porters — teenagers Helen and Dossy, their younger sister Janie, their wheelchair-bound father, their loving but detached mother, and their Scottish nurses, Bea and Agnes — adapt to the presence of the soldiers, though they miss Charlie, the life of the party, the oldest child who is away from the family at Army Air Corps training school. The war has not yet affected the family, and the summer stretches so promisingly before them. The Porters are introduced through the eyes of Bea, a Scottish nurse in charge of the youngest Porter. Bea’s entire world revolves around Janie, especially at the age of 36 when she laments that she likely will not have children of her own. This fierce love for Janie, a mother’s love, poses some problems when she falls in love that summer.
The narrative shifts between Bea and 16-year-old Helen, who is restless, intelligent, and always seeking recognition and praise. The post-war years are chronicled through Helen’s letters and diary — which took a bit of getting used to — before Helen’s son, Charlie, picks up the narrative as a troubled young man in 1970, when the Vietnam War throws the world into chaos once again. While the world changes around them, they are held steady by Ashaunt and a litany of summers spent in its protective arms, under its spell, able to drown out the troubles outside — until even it must change with the times and tides.
After the fateful summer of 1942, when Bea is forced to choose between love and loyalty, the characters overshadow the plot as they go about their lives. The book summary says the family is haunted by an event involving Janie that cuts that summer short, but in truth, it doesn’t carry as much significance or weight as one might assume and it hardly affects Janie at all. It’s not until Charlie enters the narrative that the story once again picks up steam, with the introduction of a troubled Vietnam vet who shares his anger over development and environmental pollution on the Point.
I was captivated by Bea’s story about love, sacrifice, the meaning of family, and the definition of home. Even though I didn’t feel as much of a connection to the other characters, Graver’s writing kept me turning the pages. Her prose is beautiful — poetic without being flowery, saying so much in just a handful of words, painting such vivid scenes and delving deep into her characters so that I felt like I had actually been to Ashaunt and really knew this family.
The End of the Point is a beautiful novel about the passage of time and how connected we can be to places where we’ve made our happiest memories. Ashaunt serves as a symbol of love and hope, and no matter what troubles or tragedies befall the family, they will always have this one place that has become part of their history, their blood. Yet, we must all come to terms with the fact that these places remain static only in our memories and that home really is with the people with whom those memories were made.
Disclosure: I received The End of the Point from Harper for review.
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