In Print : Wash-ashores have their say
"Island Home: Why People Come to Martha's Vineyard and Why They Stay," By Elaine Pace, 1st World Publishing, 2008, 122 pp., $17.50, paperback.
While the term "wash-ashore" is no compliment in some circles, Elaine Pace, herself a wash-ashore, uses it with affection in her new book, "Island Home: Why People Come to Martha's Vineyard and Why They Stay" (1st World Publishing, $17.95).
In the first eight chapters, she outlines how she and her husband Dan came to settle on Martha's Vineyard and dots the book liberally with photographs she has taken. The Pace family spent many years leaving their New Jersey home to vacation for a week on the Massachusetts shore in Eastham, making occasional day trips to the Island. Then Ms. Pace, an educator, saw an ad in the New York Times for a Vineyard elementary school principal. She applied for the job and got it.
"The rest followed as inevitably as a Slinky toy makes its determined descent down a stairway," she writes.
After three years, she and her husband, who had been making the grueling commute from a job in Boston, decided to leave behind their identities as professionals and become "regular people." Retirement had a few bumps along the way, but the Paces never felt confined by Island lifestyle. Their love of the outdoors has meant they savor all of the Vineyard's seasons.
The Paces' positive experience in settling permanently on the Island led Ms. Pace to talk with others and find out how their journeys to Island life came about. Ms. Pace wanted to tell the stories -- not of the Island's celebrities or its natives, as oral historian, but of those who add a different kind of synergy to its cultural mix. They are individuals who bring valuable skills and successful careers from other places. After talking to almost 30 Islanders and conducting 20 interviews, she winnowed her material down to 14 interviews with a cross-section of towns, ages, professions and socio-economic groups.
They are as diverse as photographer Alison Shaw and Isaque Silva, who immigrated from Brazil and works for Vineyard Propane. This section makes up the heart of the book and is its most interesting part.
The reader learns that Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary director Suzan Bellincampi worked on a teaching ship and later for the Trustees of Reservations. Retiree Allan Keith shares what it was like growing up summers on the Island in the Forties and Fifties. Janet Messineo tells how she found her identity as a fisherman and taxidermist once she got to the Vineyard.
In the final section of "Island Home," Ms. Pace addresses the question of why the transplants stay on the Vineyard and what they contribute to the Island. Here the weaknesses of "Island Home" become obvious.
Why transplants stick around, often despite financial hardship, deserves a better answer than that they are "delighted" to be here. The book gives too quick an overview of a subject that could have benefited from greater depth and more sustained analysis. The section consists primarily of a few quick takes instead of a sustained analysis of the wash-ashore phenomenon.
Her 14 interviews provide an interesting but incomplete source of information about our very special Island. It would have been much more satisfying if she had fleshed them out in greater detail.
It may be too much to expect extensive research and analysis from Ms. Pace, but she comes to the project with plenty of credentials. After a lengthy career as an educator, during which she published research in education journals, she worked as an editor in Boston and is currently a writing coach, specializing in working with small groups and individuals. She has sharpened her writing skills over the years by attending workshops with Vineyard writers John Hough and Nancy Aronie.
Her commitment to an understanding and appreciation of the Vineyard are clear. She is donating part of the book's profits to the Island Food Pantry. This is her second book, after "Island: A Memoir," and she has expressed the intention of doing another book about Vineyard people. "Island Home" is a mouth-watering appetizer; let's hope a fuller meal follows.
Ms. Pace will hold a reception at her 230 Pond Road home in West Tisbury on Sunday, May 25, from 4 to 6, and the public is invited to help celebrate publication of "Island Home." The 14 Vineyarders interviewed may know each other, but they will learn for the first time that they are appearing together in the book at the reception.
Ms. Pace will appear at Bunch of Grapes on July 11.
Brooks Robards is a regular contributor of film and book reviews to The Times.