Authors Posts by Jack Shea

Jack Shea


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Ahoy! Maties for life for two Chappy Ferry captains.

Becca Hamilton LaMarche and her husband Jeff LaMarche got hitched on the Chappy Ferry. – Photos by Sarahrae Gruner

Downtown Edgartown was Wedding Central at 1 pm on Saturday afternoon. A group of nervous-looking groomsmen were clustered in front of St. Elizabeth’s Church. Crews were setting up tables under the tent at the Daniel Fisher House. Main Street was crowded with bands of perfectly turned-out couples, the ladies skittering along the bricks in high heels toward the Old Whaling Church and the Harbor View Hotel.

However, Becca Hamilton and Jeff LaMarche’s wedding last Saturday was the Island Wedding of the Year.

The Reverend Canon Robert  Edmunds administered the vow.
The Reverend Canon Robert Edmunds administered the vow.

That’s saying a lot because the Island has 400 or more weddings a year and wedding mags rate Martha’s Vineyard nationally as a top-five wedding venue. Many of the nuptials are elaborate six-figure affairs starring the rich and famous.

But a true Island wedding is a different animal. For starters, one of the prospective spouses has to be an Islander. On Saturday, that would have been Becca Hamilton and Jeffrey LaMarche, both born and raised in Edgartown.

For another, the best Island weddings are planned with a sense of unexpected whimsy, a dash of practicality, and a generous dollop of community participation — a mirror of everyday life here.

Tony Peak led the wedding procession with his bagpipe.
Tony Peak led the wedding procession with his bagpipe.

Here’s why the LaMarches get the mythical though coveted Wedding of The Year designation. These two free spirits, both captains on the Chappaquiddick Ferry, got married where they work, aboard the On Time II at Memorial Wharf in Edgartown in front of God, guests, startled fishermen, a few dozen delighted tourists and passersby, and those aboard a couple of passing boats that idled in the channel for a gull’s-eye view of the proceedings.

Several hundred men, women, and children. More than you could fit in the Old Whaling Church. Most of them going crazy with cellphone cameras. At this writing, the World Wide Web from here to Peoria is likely groaning under the weight of wedding photos being uploaded. It was that special.

And the men wore kilts, left to right: Chappy Ferry owner Peter Wells, Tom Sullivan, Rick Hamilton, Matt McKenzie, Sam McKenzie, and piper Tony Peak.
And the men wore kilts, left to right: Chappy Ferry owner Peter Wells, Tom Sullivan, Rick Hamilton, Matt McKenzie, Sam McKenzie, and piper Tony Peak.

Another piece of the whimsy was provided by Becca’s dad, Rick Hamilton, a man dedicated to his Scots ancestry. He had appealed to all and sundry to wear kilts if they had ‘em. About a half-dozen men including Tom Sullivan and Matt McKenzie and one tyke, Sam McKenzie, came in their clan tartans.

Promptly at 2 pm, bagpiper Tony Peak (“mostly American  mongrel, with a touch of Scots”) led the wedding party, pipes skirling, aboard the On Time II to begin a 200-foot voyage to the harbor-facing front of Memorial Wharf. The wedding couple did not pilot the On Time. That was handled by ferry owner Peter Wells, himself dressed in full clan regalia.

boat2.jpgOnce the On Time II was snugged at the wharf, and after several nonplussed anglers had reeled in, the wedding party completed a stately walk to the wheelhouse where The Reverend Canon Robert Edmunds, in formal cassock (black with red piping and accents), delivered the wedding instructions and administered the vows. The bride was kissed to a roar of applause, pictures were taken, then Capt. Wells sounded the horn and brought the On Time II back to port.

Mr. Peak led the wedding party away from the dock through a gathering crowd drawn by his pipes to the wedding party procession heading toward Main Street and the wedding reception at Atria restaurant.

The bride wore a full-length ivory champagne gown with small pearls at the bodice and a shimmer of delicate sequins. The gown had a short train, a good decision, considering that footing and clean decks can be tricky on ferries. The bridesmaids wore midnight blue knee-length dresses, suitable for reuse, perhaps at a Holly Ball this holiday season. The groom and groomsmen wore buff-colored suits. The wedding party completed their ensembles with fire-engine red sunglasses. Island chic, baby.

On Monday afternoon, Becca and Jeff took a few minutes to review their wedding day with The Times. “We’re kind of shy in general and we were nervous and a little embarrassed by all the people who came,” Becca said.

“I told myself that all these people came because they love us. When I got real nervous I could look at the people and see someone close to me, like my Grandma.

smiles.jpg“So many people helped us, Winnetu, Atria, Peter (Wells) and Jay (Gruner). Atria was fantastic and very generous. Benito’s (Oak Bluffs hair salon) even gave Jeff a trim and cleanup — he was looking a little Duck Dynasty a week ago. Your Market provided champagne. We are lucky people.”

The community aspect of this wedding was apparent in the manner in which people and businesses showed up for a couple of kids who worked hard to scrape together a down payment on a house and were strapped for wedding funds. For example, Jason Gruner, a Chappy resident, stood next to his gleaming Jaguar at Memorial wharf, dressed in a chauffeur cap and white gloves. Mr. Gruner, his wife, Lisa, and two-year old daughter, Ella, would drive the couple to the to the Winnetu Resort following the reception for a night in the wedding suite, courtesy of owner Mark Snider and his staff.

The Gruners had worked mightily on the event because they like the couple and because of a strong bond cemented two years ago. “Ella decided to be born in the middle of the night two years ago, long after the ferry stopped running,” Ms. Gruner explained. “We called for an emergency run and Jeff showed up to take us to the mainland.”

The couple’s offbeat wedding plan drew rave reviews from onlookers. The best testimony about an Island wedding must be pronounced by Islanders. Delia and Chris Gibson, Oak Bluffs natives, were at Memorial Wharf with their two grandkids — Alishay, 5, and Rhemel, 2 — to do some last-day Derby fishing in the Edgartown Harbor channel that often attracts bonito and false albacore.

The kids were enthralled with the bagpipes and the wedding pageantry and color. “This is great,” Ms. Gibson said. “We’re lucky to have been here today. The kids love the bagpipes and the colorful clothes and I have never seen a wedding aboard a ferry before.”

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A Man Called Jesus, a novel by Rick Herrick, paperback novel, 130 pages with notes and annotations. Copyright 2014 by Rick Herrick. Sunstone Press, Santa Fe, N.M. Available from Bunch of Grapes, Vineyard Haven and at online booksellers.

Jesus was a good guy living in an age in which goodness — at least in his hometown in Galilee — was in short supply. He may also have been a gifted teacher and healer who preached a message of love and service. Then he met with a bad end, not of his own doing.

In broad terms, that’s the takeaway provided by retired Tulane University professor Rick Herrick, PhD, in his newest novel, A Man Called Jesus. The book describes the life of one of the most famous people in history in an approachable style, using present-day language and dialogue that allows the reader to consider Jesus apart from ancient, and often hysterical, historical and religious chatter about who Jesus was. Mr. Herrick’s novel advises us that we need to focus on the message, not on the delivery system.

Whether Jesus was the son of God sent to provide salvation to us, as many Christ-based religions believe, is not the argument Mr. Herrick has chosen to have. Rather, he focuses on the Jesus message: love your neighbor and take care of him. And he challenges the assumption that the gospels and the bible are historically accurate documents. Along the way, he provides scholarly insight into the challenges posed by attempting to fit a 2,000-year-old life into 21st century value systems.

A former magazine editor, Mr. Herrick, a seasonal Oak Bluffs resident, is the author of three published novels: An Uncommon Woman, A Week in October, and Choosing Love. He has also published a work of nonfiction entitled The Case Against Evangelical Christianity. His musical play Lighthouse Point was performed as a fundraiser for the Martha’s Vineyard Museum in May 2013.

In past conversations, Mr. Herrick has shown up as a balanced, thoughtful man who is devoted to the concept that love, not rhetoric, is the answer. He is not the first or most famous to challenge the authenticity of ancient writings as the source of unwavering belief. In the 20th century, Joseph Campbell held that mantle most famously, making the case in several excruciatingly researched books, that the same ancient myths crept into the record of the lives of most of the masters in Hindu, Buddhist, Islamic, Christian and Judaic religious traditions, and a few even more ancient belief systems that I’d never heard of.

In A Man Called Jesus, Mr. Herrick sets the human theme from the get-go. The novel opens with Jesus and Anna, his eight-month pregnant wife standing naked under a waterfall, completely in love, talking about the impending birth of their first child. They are Palestinian peasants, eking out a bare living from his work as a quarryman chipping granite for the overlord Romans’ building projects. Most of what he and peasants like him earn are returned to the Romans in the form of taxes, essentially the future Middle Age feudal system.

He loses Anna and their daughter in childbirth and runs in anguish into the desert, walking for weeks in his grief. He meets biblical figures, including Mary of Magdala, and Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha, and a zealot named John the Baptist who preached hellfire and damnation without the redemptive act of baptism. The Romans put two in John’s hat shortly thereafter for rabble-rousing. Jesus is unimpressed with John’s message because he believes that is exactly what is wrong with religious teaching: too much damnation, not enough love and forgiveness.

At this point, I was moved to stop reading and to take a look inside. I hightailed it out of my Christian church as soon as I could because hellfire and damnation was the message I was getting. A pragmatic decision, really. I grew up in a tough place with angry, powerful people who would kick your butt if they were having a bad day. Worship a God cut from the same cloth? I don’t think so. I have since come to believe in a question Einstein once posed, that the Universe intends well for me. That would be universal love. Works for me.

What Mr. Herrick has done is to present Jesus as a man with whom we can identify without the background noise of two millennia of rules and wrangling about the biblical proof of his Godhead status. Mr. Herrick also shows us Jesus’s humanity as an unsure and initially unwilling teacher. That was his greatness: a willingness to suffer and die for his beliefs. Bottom line: his beliefs were about the sanctity of human life. He died for us and he didn’t have to be God to do it any more than Gandhi was god.

Fact is, having read this book, I like Jesus a lot better than I did when I thought he was part of a religious con. Jesus was a standup guy.

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Performers from left, Guy Hayden, Aparecida Campos, Darlene Honorato, Lauriete Miller and Eloizio Gomes at The Whaling Church on Sunday. —Photo by Lynn Christoffers
Four year old Eduarda Gomes, left, and her friend, Krisla Miller, age 3, during the concert. —Photo by Lynn Christoffers
Four year old Eduarda Gomes, left, and her friend, Krisla Miller, age 3, during the concert. —Photo by Lynn Christoffers

You didn’t need to speak Portuguese to be moved by the joyous pageantry of religious celebration and gospel song at the Old Whaling Church in Edgartown last Sunday afternoon.

The speakers and the congregation demonstrated a natural ebullience in their culture of worship that carried non-speakers with them in a language-free celebration of spiritual life.

The event, sponsored by Mission Calvary Church in Vineyard Haven, was highlighted by the appearance of Donte Do Trono, Brazil’s most popular gospel group led by Mariana and Felipe Valadao ( Pastor Valadao also serves one of the largest ministries in Rio de Janeiro.

Mission Calvary Pastor Joao Barbosa was beaming on Sunday before the three-hour celebration began. “We are happy to welcome Mariana and Pastor Felipe to the Island,” he said, noting that friends in ministries in Boston helped to arrange the visit by the Valadaos and their Christian gospel musical group. The Vavaldao’s would be the Brazilian equivalents of the Winans family gospel singers in the U.S.

An all ages crown enjoyed the performance on Sunday. —Photo by Lynn Christoffers
An all ages crown enjoyed the performance on Sunday. —Photo by Lynn Christoffers

The fast-moving afternoon included gospel readings and sharing by several pastors, interspersed with music provided by vocalists Alison B. Frazier Hayden, Lauriete Miller, Sonia Barbosa, Eloizio Gomes, Darlene Honorato, and Aparecida Campos. The vocalists were supported by musicians Guy Hayden, Eloizio Gomes, Otoniel Santos, and Oziel Santos. Island pastor Leomar de Oliveira provided English translation of Gospel text and remarks by the pastors.

More than 100 worshipers in the audience provided an additional feel-good flavor to the event, particularly through the presence of several dozen children, ranging from tykes to pre-teens, perfectly attentive despite the allure of swinging doors on the end of the pews.

As an extension of its ministry, Mission Calvary Church has scheduled two breast-cancer awareness events at the church this month. An event for women will be held at 6 pm on October 18 at the church, 32 Surveyors Lane in Vineyard Haven. A second event, for men and women, will be held on Sunday, Oct. 19, at 6 pm at the church. The events are being organized by Sonia Barbosa and Lauriete Miller. More information is available at 508-685-2737 or at 508-521-6294.

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Martha's Vineyard Poet Laureate Arnie Reisman with his predecessor, Lee McCormack. —Photo by William Waterway

If you’re thinking that poets are a serious, grim lot, you’d have thought you were in the wrong place last Tuesday night when Arnie Reisman was crowned as the Island’s second Poet Laureate (PL) by the Martha’s Vineyard Poetry Society at the Katharine Cornell Theatre in Vineyard Haven.

We learned at the event that poets laureate are emerging like pinkletinks in spring on the Cape and Islands and across our vast Commonwealth, but it’s not likely that many dress for the occasion to accept their title in a toga and laurel wreath as Mr. Reisman did to the delight of 70 in the audience. The event was sponsored by the Vineyard Haven Public Library.

To be honest, his toga was not of the wool, linen, or hemp favored by the Romans. More like 100 percent polyester. His crown was genuine plastic rather than fresh laurel leaves, but the effect was probably a lot more salutary than those received by the frowny-faces of antiquity.

Mr. Reisman, a nationally-known raconteur and wordsmith in a variety of media, succeeds Lee McCormack, the Island’s first PL and a poet of fame himself. The Martha’s Vineyard Poetry Society is a group of about 370 Island poets and supporters who seek to enhance the presence of poetry on the Vineyard and throughout the world.

Following an introduction by library event coordinator Betty Burton, MVPS major-domo William Waterway described the group’s scrupulous selection process that has resulted in the elevations of Messrs. McCormack and Reisman.

“After we announced the plan for an Island wide poet laureate almost three years ago, 24 Island poets each submitted five poems to be read by ten judges,” Mr. Waterway said. “In all, they reviewed 1,008 pages of work.

“We used a double-blind process. The entrants did not know who the judges were. The poets were not identified but were assigned numbers. Lee McCormack was awarded the first title. Poet Number Five was second. I kept asking: who is Poet Number Five?

“As we came to the end of Lee’s two-year term, I found out Poet Number Five is a man named Arnie Reisman who I did not know. I had his telephone number. After offering him the title and spending time with him, I know him today as a man and as a talent.”

Mr. Waterway introduced a series of Island poets with brief readings of their work. Steve Ewing, self-described as “a local kid who likes to write,” has been named PL of Edgartown. He read a free-verse history of Edgartown as he experienced the town as a child 50 years ago. He also read a poem about his friend Tom Osmers, a beloved West Tisbury fisherman and naturalist.

Valerie Sonnenthal, Chris Legg, Mr. McCormack, and Mr. Reisman read from their work, including some sharp-edged whimsy on what might be the true meaning of the “Evacuation Route” sign on the Sagamore Bridge. When his designation was announced two weeks ago, Mr. Reisman said his goal was to make poetry accessible to everyone. For those of us who are iambic pentameter-challenged, his initial foray lived up to the promise.

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Arnie Reisman has succeeded Lee McCormack as the second Poet Laureate of Martha's Vineyard. —Photo by Michael Cummo

Time will tell whether Arnie Reisman will be the most prolific and accomplished Poet Laureate of Martha’s Vineyard, but it’s a fair bet he’ll be the most humorous.

Last month Mr. Reisman became the Island’s second poet laureate, succeeding the redoubtable Lee McCormack, who was the first to hold the designation bestowed by the Martha’s Vineyard Poetry Society (MVPS).

Mr. Reisman is an award-winning writer, producer, and performer whose work has appeared on television, radio, film, in various publications, and theater. He is a panelist with his wife, Paula Lyons, on “Says You!” a long-running, zany quiz show on NPR. “Says You!” recorded a segment at the Whaling Church in Edgartown in August.

Mr. Reisman has penned several plays, including “Not Constantinople,” produced by the Vineyard Playhouse last July, as well as the unforgettable “The Sound and the Ferry” several years earlier.

Mr. Reisman will be welcomed to his new post at a reception on Tuesday, Oct. 7 at 7 pm at the Katharine Cornell Theatre in Vineyard Haven. Reached via email in the U.K. this week, Mr. Reisman said, “After being stunned and flattered, I hope to hit the streets waving Poetry’s banner. I see my mission is to show folks that poetry is with us always and not under an old rock, although it can be found there too.

“To think poetically is to think crisply, perceptively, tunefully. Like doing crossword puzzles. Reading or writing it, it’s good for what ails you. I hope to host some events and classes to help us all think of what’s poetry in our daily lives. I hope to bring fun to it. My muse, for example, is Billy Collins, our former U.S. Poet Laureate. Read him and you’ll understand my mission,” he said.

Poet Billy Collins describes his work as “hospitable.” Biographers say Mr. Collins favors lyrical simplicity over abstruse intellectualism. Several of his works have been set to animation.

The idea for a Martha’s Vineyard Poet Laureate was initiated in 2011 by the Martha’s Vineyard Poetry Society, marking the first time a position was created to designate an Island-wide poet laureate. MVPS was founded in 2008 by Island poet, author, and musician William Waterway.

The Martha’s Vineyard Poetry Society is a group of about 370 Island poets and supporters who seek to enhance the presence of poetry on the Vineyard and throughout the world. The Martha’s Vineyard Poetry Society promotes poetry on Martha’s Vineyard through education and through the support of existing and new poetry groups.

MVPS hosts and sponsors free public poetry events such as “Summer Solstice in Poetry and Song,” held at Featherstone Center for the Arts; “Winter Solstice in Poetry and Song,” held at the Vineyard Haven Public Library; and “A Gathering of Island Poets and Musicians” — a four-hour MVTV television production broadcast “live” via Comcast to the Island community. “Martha’s Vineyard Poem in Your Pocket Day (MVPIYPD)” is held in conjunction with National Poem in Your Pocket (PIYP) day; “Civil War Poetry” took place at the Vineyard Haven Public Library with support from the National Library Association and theNational Endowment for the Arts; and many other poetry programs on the Island are supported.

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Upper Lagoon Pond in Oak Bluffs is a water source for the town.

Following a tempestuous public meeting last Thursday night at the Oak Bluffs Public Library, the board of health took no action on the question of whether to continue the practice of adding fluoride to the town water supply, as it has since 1991.

The board agreed to take the issue under advisement and consider the comments and information provided by about two dozen of the 50 residents who jammed the library meeting room. Speaking after the meeting, board chairman William White, who moderated the fractious 90-minute debate, said his personal choice would be to bring the question to town voters at the annual town meeting in April.

If the issue does make it to the town meeting floor, voters can expect to hear a repeat of many of the positions held by fluoride opponents and proponents that were laid out on Thursday night, often in strident tones and through shouted interruptions that required Mr. White to repeatedly call for civil debate and orderly commentary.

Perhaps the ugliest scene of the evening occurred after resident Jennifer Kingsley, a biologist, said, “I can’t believe we’re even discussing this subject.” Ms. Kingsley visibly recoiled as a dozen antifluoride proponents shouted her down.

Opponents of fluoride centered on two themes: that the inclusion of fluoride in water systems by government robs them of a choice about using fluoride; second, that fluoride as used in U.S. water systems is a toxic byproduct of offshore metal industries and is dangerous to public health. Several speakers referenced studies that supported their position that the use of fluoride in water systems produces higher rates of cancer, osteoporosis, and other bone diseases.

Although the meeting was billed as a public forum, board of health member John Campbell, a chiropractor at the forefront of the fluoride-removal effort, used the forum to repeat his position, expressed at an earlier meeting, on why fluoride should be removed from the municipal water system. The public also had plenty to say on the topic.

“Would you use a product with this label?” Oak Bluffs resident John Casey demanded, holding up a picture, purportedly of a label on a fluoride container, that contained a skull and crossbones image.

“It’s rat poison, a known toxin,” echoed Eric Carlsen.

Several Island dentists attended the meeting to speak in favor of the public health benefits of fluoridation. They argued that their personal experiences and more than 60 years of research and study have proven fluoride to be an aid to dental health, and that it does not lead to other health risks. Several said that the “greater good” to the public from fluoridation, similar to flu shots and vaccination, should trump personal choice in this health matter.

Myron Allukian, who has chaired the U.S. Surgeon General’s Work Group on Fluoridation and Dental Health, and who managed the city of Boston’s dental-care program, joined the meeting via speakerphone.

“Dental health disease has been reduced by half if not more since 1978,” he said. “An enormous growth in dental health has been noted in 140 Massachusetts communities which fluoridate. Fluoride is a naturally occurring substance in the earth; we can’t get water without fluoride. We’ve just duplicated what nature showed us.

“It comes down to credibility. Who are you going to believe, studies or credible data, or junk on the Internet? If your board of health has concerns, then get the state health department and other parties involved. In a nutshell, virtually every health agency and the surgeon general support fluoridation. Don’t shortchange your community. I put it on your board of health to research the issue.”

Both sides in the debate waved studies and findings to support their viewpoints. Oak Bluffs resident and shellfish constable David Grunden asked people to take a considered approach to the issue. “Don’t cherry-pick the information that is available,” he said. “We know more now than we did 60 years ago. Some studies may be outdated. There are also different solutions today, such as sealants for teeth.”

Though several residents thanked the board for scheduling an evening session, few opinions seemed to change.

“I’m more confused right now than when I walked in here tonight,” said Richard Combra, former Oak Bluffs selectman. “But I’ve been here awhile, with and without fluoride, and I imagine I’ll continue to be here, however it works out.”

Board of health members Patricia Bergeron and Mr. White did not disclose a position on the issue.

Asked prior to the meeting whether fluoridation was a new issue and why it is flaring up right now, Dr. Campbell said it had been laying in the weeds for some time, and was only coming up now because he is on the board of health and because the water department made a request of the board.
“My patients have asked me to take up the matter,” he said.
A town official who asked not to be identified said the fluoride-removal campaign was initiated by Dr. Campbell, not the water district, and that Dr. Campbell also raised the issue in his previous tenure as a health board member 15 years ago.

Fluoride was first used in American community drinking water in 1945. About 72 percent of community water systems in the U.S. contain a fluoride additive of 0.7 parts per million of water. Oak Bluffs and the Wampanoag tribe in Aquinnah are the only two of four Island community water systems that fluoridate.

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Jacket photo by Alison Shaw and portrait by Valerie Sonnenthal.

“Some Kind of Lucky: A Fifty-Year Love Affair with Martha’s Vineyard” by Joan Bowman; hardcover, Vineyard Stories 2014, $19.95 from

“Some Kind of Lucky” sounds like the title of an Elmore Leonard thriller. It isn’t.

While it is often a thrilling read, “Some Kind of Lucky” is a memoir of life seen through the prism of Martha’s Vineyard. Author Joan Cowen Bowman uses the Island, her favorite place, as a measure of constancy of celebration of life’s good times, and a nurturer in the bad times that accompany five decades of life, anyone’s life.

Under the aegis of Jan Pogue, publisher of Vineyard Stories, Ms. Bowman, now 82, has partnered with Alison Shaw, the ultra-photographer of Island mood and magic, to produce an entirely relatable story for any reader with sufficient years of life experience and an understanding of the Island’s effect on the soul.

Visitors, residents, even Islanders often struggle to articulate the grace this place will bestow on anyone open and watchful enough to receive it. Ms. Bowman has been able to offer a clear window to us through which we are able to see 50 years of her life in complete spectrum, ranging from joyous family weddings to the death of a child, perhaps the most wrenching loss that humans are asked to bear.

The reading of a memoir can be a tricky business. Memoir writers are often motivated to set the record straight about their lives, or to write what they wished had happened. Others polish and tidy up real circumstance and life events that are not to their liking and we, poor readers, miss the essence of the life under review.

Not the case here. This is a powerful story of unflinching self-examination delivered with a tone of journalistic objectivity. We get a sense that the writer has been able to stand back from the personal joy and pain of the past 50 years of her life in order to see it as it was.

She lays out her choices and the happenstances of her life clearly, generally without judgment of herself and others, and describes the joy and pain which ensued. Perhaps the work is a commitment to understand, to sum up her life. Perhaps one develops a sense of respect for the courage and the character of this woman, to allow strangers to see her as she was and is.

“Some Kind of Lucky” is not a corny paean to the Island. It is rather an acknowledgment of the restorative power it provides to souls who seek peace in its power and beauty. Ms. Bowman explains also how she came to understand that this place, like all natural places, offers both beauty and danger, using a post-storm riptide at Squibnocket in which she and her 6-year-old daughter nearly perished as the proof.

Her story is compelling because of the circumstances of her life. Ms. Bowman was born to a luxurious life, created by a fortune amassed by her grandfather in the late 19th century and built upon by her father. Born and raised in a wealthy New Jersey enclave in the 1930s, Ms. Bowman speaks passionately of a childhood on “The Place,” a 10-acre estate built by her grandfather on the south Jersey Shore. It may be that the Island became “The Place” for the adult.

She provides details of a life of privilege, and does not recall hearing the words “I love you” from her parents. My belief is that we must all experience unconditional love in our lives or we die by degrees, spiritually and emotionally. That thought came to mind as I witnessed her commitment to finding that haven in her marriages.

Young Ms. Bowman has let us see her insides, and we in turn want to warn this young woman to be careful, to choose well. She marries twice, divorces twice, brings five sons and a daughter into the world, and uses the Island as their “Place” for a month every summer.

There are Island weddings for several children, and Ms. Bowman is on the Island during the summer of 2008 when her son Bo’s partner calls from New York with the news that Bo has been hospitalized with flu symptoms and leg pain. Two days later, Bo is gone, a fit man dead at 39 of a massive invasive virus.

I am reminded by this story that finding our way to personal peace — happiness, really — is not made simpler by wealth or privilege, nor is it made more difficult by a hardscrabble life. Life is an equalizer, and requires us to pursue happiness with tools available to all of us: resilience, courage, honesty, and commitment. Life will give us what we desire, but we have to ask for it.

Ms. Bowman, an interior designer for 35 years, also holds an MFA earned nine years ago from Sarah Lawrence College. She writes for New Jersey newspapers, and is an essayist whose work is published in the Vineyard Gazette. In 2010 she published a family memoir, The Power of The Place, featuring her childhood home.

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Chris Knowles's latest is The Cambridge Incident.

The Cambridge Incident, by Chris Knowles; paperback, 162 pages, 2013 from Publish America. Available in print at $19.95 and online at Amazon and Barnes and Noble, or by special order through bookstores.

Island resident Chris Knowles uses his background in the Washington intelligence community and his later experience in military intelligence to offer readers insight into the unseen world of national intelligence and shifting international political alliances.

In his five novels to date, Mr. Knowles makes the case that we are onlookers, often seeing what we are meant to see. Realpolitik is carried out in shadowy silence by the national-intelligence and black-ops players du jour. The Cambridge Incident is the story of the abduction of Beth Edelman, CIA director, off the streets of Cambridge following an appearance at Harvard University.

Mr. Knowles has retired from a lengthy career in the medical-care industry following service in U.S. Air Force intelligence during the Vietnam War. Prior novels include looks at Northern Ireland in the 1970s and a murder mystery during the Cuban missile crisis.

Mr. Knowles’ approach is appealing to us in part because we know by now that we never get the whole story from government, and we are thirsty for insights into the process of international spookery.

And we get them in The Cambridge Incident. Ms. Edelman is the first woman and foreign-born CIA director. An Israeli citizen by birth, she has boots-on-the-ground understanding of the Mideast miasma. Snatching a high-profile person under CIA security protection off Brattle Street requires planning and split-second timing that only professionals bring to an operation. But whose professionals, and why the abduction? Who is motivated enough to incur the wrath of U.S. might by the act?

The meat of the intelligence aspect of the story begins. Tom Halloran, CIA in Washington, and Vince Petrillo, CIA on the ground in Cambridge, working with FBI, begin tracking the UPS van that cut Ms. Edelman off from her security, killing an agent in the kidnapping.

The trail leads them to Martha’s Vineyard, where the abductors, after multiple vehicle switches and a boat ride, have used the airport here to fly Ms. Edelman out of the U.S. to parts unknown. When the plane leaves U.S. airspace, it enters CIA jurisdiction, and CIA human-intelligence specialists Peter Kent and Sam McAdams in Washington, D.C., get the assignment.

Their human intelligence (HUMINT) work unlocks the mystery and makes one of Mr. Knowles’ central points: The development of communication intelligence (COMINT) and signals intelligence (SIGINT) have overshadowed the importance of human intelligence in the shadow world of intelligence-gathering.

In a telephone interview last week, Mr. Knowles explained his belief: “Sept. 11 was the ultimate demonstration that we are too dependent on techno intelligence. Looking back in time, the strength of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the precursor agency to the CIA, was boots on the ground and understanding the thought process going on in the minds of enemies. We’ve been so focused on the techno-intelligence tools that human-intel capabilities have atrophied, and we can’t reverse that, like turning on a dime,” he said.

“We need better knowledge of languages and the ability to think with the minds of potential enemies. Can 9/11 happen again? I make no assumptions about that because the players change — now ISIS is in the public view — but the fact of matter is that different forms of attack exist. I make no assumptions that enemies of the U.S. have made their mark. The definition of terrorism includes acts that change the way we live and act. I don’t see 9/11 as a one-off at all. It was simply one group’s action in what is a very fluid situation,” he said.

We don’t reveal plot endings in these reviews, but it is the failure of COMINT and SIGINT methodology that leads to an ending with implications that are frightening to consider. For example, the unraveling of the abduction leads us to a connection with Iran’s nuclear capabilities.

Mr. Knowles takes pains to include a segment of a transcript of a presentation by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the U.N. General Assembly in 2012 that explained the scope and progress of Iran’s nuclear-capability work. In a subsequent interview with an NBC correspondent on Face the Nation on July 14, 2013, Mr. Netanyahu said Iran was only a few months away from crossing “the red line” of nuclear capability that Israel would not allow them to cross.

What’s happening now? “I’ve looked for information but I haven’t heard anything in the press about [Iran’s nuclear status] for six months. Our attention is being directed to ISIS,” he said.


Mr. Knowles reveals no state secrets in his novels. He cannot. But he can, and does, lift the veil enough so that we can understand the game more clearly, shedding some light for us on a very dark business.

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“Shores of the Heart,” a first novel by Thea Marsh. Paperback, self-published from Mira Digital Publishing, Chesterfield, Mo. $14.95, 198 pages including reader’s guide. Available online through Amazon or

Tina Reich was leaving the author sign-and-schmooze table at the Islanders Write conference last month when I asked for her reaction to the event for our upcoming story in The Times. When she learned I review books for these pages, she thrust a copy of “Shores of the Heart” into my hand.

“I’ve always wanted to write a book and here it is, self-published today [Aug. 11],” she beamed. “It’s set on the Vineyard and the premise is that women who have affairs shouldn’t always end up with a red A on their chests.”

I’ve read this first novel, written under the nom de plume Thea Marsh, and found a fresh and unconventional story, full of literary and life wisdom, told in a straightforward first-person narrative by a fictional Island girl, Miranda, with a great and busy life — hubby, three kids, and a home — who unaccountably and unexpectedly finds herself in love and in lust with a Wall Street one-percenter, Clay, with a seasonal manse that’s been in the family for simply ages.

The guts of the plot is the recounting in first person of Miranda’s coming to terms with her decision to embrace an extramarital affair, its ecstasy, and the dangers it presents to herself, her marriage, and to her family’s health.

Ms. Reich has written outside the conventional manner of novelizing. She includes the author’s voice throughout in the form of prefaces before most chapters in which she comments on the material to follow in terms of its issues as the author faces them, or she quotes other literary giants on the aspects of the human condition about to be on display. The effect is to take the reader into the author’s head as well as into the character development that follows in the chapter.

Ms. Reich is startlingly well-read, from Flaubert to Barbara Kingsolver, and makes use of that knowledge to advance the notion that Miranda is the sum total of her life experiences, that her love-madness has deep roots in her personal history. By extension, Ms. Reich seems to argue that that is the case with all of us — we simply don’t know why we do some things that seem anomalous in our lives — and that awarding scarlet A’s is at best simplistic, at worst misleading and irrelevant.

So if you were expecting a bodice ripper, this ain’t it. There is a fair amount of heavy breathing, and some graphic sexual passages you won’t be reading to the kids, but Ms. Reich’s writing style is not lurid. It is spare and direct, journalistic.

The writing is crisp, with definitive short sentences. Well, except for the parts where she goes off on the Terminally Self-Absorbed who descend on us each summer. Her characters and the prefaces ask questions about life and how and why we all live it the way we do. Ms. Reich describes that part of her writing process as turning the diamond over and seeing its prisms from the other side.

This is a first novel, uneven in places, but written in an agreeable style that draws the reader in. Ms. Reich notes that she does not spend a lot of time on external physical details of her characters, but on fleshing out the internal spiritual nature of her characters. Not the way Charles Dickens would have done it perhaps, but it works here for her.

Ms. Reich is an accomplished literary mind. She tells us straight up that she has written the book she wanted to write in a style and format in which she chose to write.

The book has several other compelling aspects for me. First, thanks to the Islanders Write conference, we literally stumbled on this author who has spent her 27 Island summers aching to write this nontraditional book.

Next, how many others are there on-Island who didn’t bump into a book reviewer? And how do we continue to get their voices heard?

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Jim Wann, Don Dixon, and Bland Simpson, the Coastal Cohorts, delight audiences with their tales of coastal living. — Photo courtesy of Jim Wann

Martha’s Vineyard fisherfolk, you can meet your doppelgangers on the eve of the 69th annual Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby when The Coastal Cohorts stage King Mackerel and the Blues are Running: Songs and Stories of the Carolina Coast at the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse on Friday and Saturday, Sept. 12 and 13.

"King Mackerel & The Blues Are Running: Songs & Stories of the Carolina Coast" echoes themes Islanders will find familiar.
“King Mackerel & The Blues Are Running: Songs & Stories of the Carolina Coast” echoes themes Islanders will find familiar.

King Mackerel is a long-running performance of music and stories about fishing and life along the Carolina coastline. The theatrical show includes a three-man acoustic folk/soul/rock revue, with an environmental edge, of Southern coastal life featuring old-time video of hurricanes and other features of life “on the edge.”

The Coastal Cohorts is a trio of good-ole boys who also happen to be smart, award-winning musicians whose tunes and talents have been acclaimed up and down the Carolina coast, at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and at the Westside Theatre in New York, where Clive Barnes, arts critic for The New York Times and later for The New York Post, called the Cohorts “a pure, salt-watered delight.”

And coming at the end of tourist season, it may make you glow a little to know that you can see the show for a helluva a lot less than New Yorkers paid.

The Cohorts serve up a heady down-home sound with some elements of what is called “beach music” in the Carolinas, which has nothing to do with The Beach Boys, pianist/vocalist Bland Simpson, Kenan Distinguished Professor of English & Creative Writing at UNC Chapel Hill, hastened to add in a phone chat last week. More like beat-your-feet happy music, trellised with lyrics about life on and around the deep blue. You can Google King Mackerel and hear some cuts yourself.

Mr. Barnes said the show reminded him of Jacques Brel’s work. Mr. Simpson said he wasn’t so sure the review would go that way.

“We were playing the West Bank Theater on 42nd street, which is small. Clive Barnes is sitting about 10 feet away from us. Now, we have a bit in the show where we throw rubber worms into the audience. You know, the ones you rig up as lures?

“Well, Jim [Wann, lead guitar] had thrown his and I have my arm cocked and suddenly realize I’m about to hit the most important theater critic in the world with a faceful of rubber worms. Then I saw him lean forward and I took that to mean he was enjoying it, so I let fly.”

The point of that story is that these are guys who let it fly. The show itself is an example.

“We were contacted in 1984 by The Embers, a very popular beach music band, to write some songs and material for them. When they realized the amount of staging and lighting involved, they didn’t continue, so we said, ‘let’s do it ourselves.’”

So they wrote the songs and a script, named themselves The Coastal Cohorts, and “King Mackerel” was launched. The show has been going since with a short hiatus in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Many of their performances are devoted to fundraising for the North Carolina Coastal Federation and other nonprofit environmental organizations. Mr. Simpson serves on the NCCF board and has a committed interest in the health of the ocean and its residents.

Mr. Wann is a Tony and Olivier-nominated creator of Broadway shows, including the long-running Pump Boys and Dinettes.

Mr. Dixon is a successful singer-songwriter and record producer (REM’s Murmur) with more than 200 recorded songs for artists who include Joe Cocker, Marshall Crenshaw, Hootie & the Blowfish, Counting Crows, Marti Jones, and Ronnie Spector.

The Coastal Cohorts will arrive on Martha’s Vineyard thanks to the efforts of seasonal Island resident Edward Strong, a senior partner at Dodger Properties, a major player in New York theater productions that include the hit show Jersey Boys.

“Ed Strong has a house here and he’s been after us to come and do the show for five or six years,” Mr. Simpson said. “He really put it together with M.J. Munafo (Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse executive artistic director).”

Mr. Strong said he had been thinking of bringing the Coastal Cohorts to the Island for some time. “It seemed like a perfect fit,” he said. “And the occasion of the Derby seemed like a wonderful kick-off event.”

Noting the obvious relevance of their material to an Island where fishing and conservation are dominant concerns, Mr. Simpson said, “We may be bringing coals to Newcastle. Certainly Martha’s Vineyard is one of the most important coastal communities in America. But we’re glad to be here, particularly since none of us has ever been to the Vineyard.”

In conversation, Mr. Simpson echoes familiar themes. “Our show is that tourism was a great thing that didn’t impinge on bluewater fishing for a long time. Then the waterfront was bought up and conflict began. Co-existing cultures started to run into each other. Fish houses [waterside businesses that buy commercial catches] had declined precipitously in the past decade on the barrier islands, for example. A group of fishermen bought the last one on Ocracoke Island or fishermen there would have had no place to land their catch.”

These guys get it, and the music is good.

Performances begin at 7:30 pm on Friday and Saturday night. The show runs about two hours so no need for fishermen anticipating the start of the Derby at 12 midnight, Sunday, Sept. 14 to wear their waders to the theater. You’ll have time to gear up after the show and still meet the incoming night tide.

Tickets are $50 for adults; $40 for seniors; $30 for students. Tickets are available online at or by visiting the theater at 24 Church St. in Vineyard Haven.

For more information, visit