The land at the Mason Retreat has stories to tell, secrets to keep and its people to hold. As I sailed into the Chesapeake Bay, looked right and contemplated the acres of peach trees tended by freed slaves earning living wages, I imagine a part of the Earth on the verge of utopia. The land would speak otherwise. To preserve the land, its inhabitants must suffer its curses in a truly Southern Gothic way.
Oh the emotions this novel drew from deep within me! I felt the roots of the peach trees grab hold of my bones and take a stronghold. Ophelia, the Mason wife, enraged me — for the abandonment of her son and husband for the superficiality of Baltimore high society — all to escape the land. I assumed the loneliness of Ophelia’s son, and my heart quickened with his sisters’ obsessions to carry on the family tradition of preserve, preserve.
Not to say that there weren’t moments of outright humor — I almost spewed my sweet tea over these pages’ rare laughable moments. “It’s Johns Hopkins, not John Hopkins.” reports one suitor of Ophelia’s daughter, Mary. As a graduate of this institution, I have said this exact quote many, many times. Another laugh, “We are all Catholic.” — the superficial attempt at ecumenicism that we all know no one believes. Even as the Retreat abandons its orchards and turns to a new crop of inhabitants, the exasperated interviewee retorts “Does she expect me to read that? Someone named Goffart. Get it? Go fart.” Potty talk reigns, even in the early 1900’s.
The Right Hand Shore is a novel to savor, slowly take in the setting. Embrace the sinking pace of Southern agrarian life with a tart glass of lemonade on a breezy high porch. Faulkner, Conroy,…Tilghman.
The Right Hand Shore by Christopher Tilghman
Farrar, Strauss and Giroux