by Julia Glass
Reviewed, 22 April 2022
National Book Award winner Julia Glass gives us her seventh novel, Vigil Harbor, set in the near future on the New England coast. On a Massachusetts peninsula, the town of Vigil Harbor is steeped in history while besieged by a tumultuous world. Political turmoil, terrorist violence, and inundation by rising seas make Vigil Harbor an isolated outpost, slow to adapt, too slow for its restless inhabitants. Many leave, most return, and no one ever passes through. Until they do.
Glass imagines the world which will exist when my six-year-old is in his twenties. It’s a place we know well with attitudes we recognize, technology we expect to be using, food and fuel prices forcing changes we know we should make now. But what has happened in the interim? That’s the question. Lost time. Gaps in our history, actions delayed, mysteries hidden and never resolved. As readers, we know in our bones what must have happened. The Harborites’ stories let us put the pieces together. But we’ll never know the entire story until we’ve lived it.
Vigil Harbor can’t be pigeon-holed as an environmentalist wake-up call any more than we can label it a dirge for 21st century politics gone wrong. Readers (alongside the Harborites) may be unnerved by the radicalization of causes they support. With the ocean eroding their beaches and storms lashing their homes, the people of Vigil Harbor have everything to lose in the race against global warming. But the way of life they know keeps its hold. There’s more interest in winning races at the Yacht Club. What can challenge entrenched values and rigid social structure?
Uncertainty, fear, faith, and endurance resonate through the pages of Glass’s novel. The story glimmers with the refracted light of folktales born of reverence for deep waters. They are voices speaking to us from the past, reminding us of our symbiosis with nature, and surging through the morass of public debate. Storms devour shorelines just as the daily news cycle eats at our souls, ceaseless and unstoppable as the rising tides. Many characters look too young to know all they know. But, of course, the youngest eyes see most clearly.
Thanks to Net Galley for an Advance Reader’s Copy of Vigil Harbor, pub date, 3 May 2022.