Island Fog: John Vanderslice
Within a thick cloud of tiny water droplets suspended in the atmosphere at or near the earth’s surface a thick mist is seen. Blocking your vision from being clear, restricting visibility not allowing you to see whatever lies ahead. Imagine your life as you live it within this huge cloud that covers your entire body, clouds your judgment and hampers you from seeing what is right in front of you. Something that confuses a situation and distracts you and hampers your thought processes ad the end result is anything but what you might expect and the mist that has enveloped you does not ever lift. Muddled, dazed and even bewildered are the main characters of this group of 11 uniquely crafted short stories whose character’s vision, desires, wants and needs are so clouded by events that they cannot control or attempt to control. The setting is Nantucket Island and the time span is from 1795-2005 where changes occur on this island and we span more than four centuries. The first characters we meet live in the 18th century and the first is William Pease a wigmaker who is accused of being a dangerous bank robber. As William enters the home of the bank President and wants to settle down with the man’s wife hoping to sell her some wigs, it becomes apparent she is distracted and disinterested. But, a single message and a few harsh words and her husband demands to speak with Pease and the events will lead him in a search for the truth, the four men who did rob the Nantucket Bank and the hope of clearing his own name. But, things do not work out for him or anyone in these stories as the endings are quite profound, the characters learn some hard lessons and the reader finds out what there is not always a happily ever after. Searching hard he finds a man that can clear not only his name but identify the robbers. Hoping to take him in for questioning, a thinking that the sheriff might listen to what his “prisoner” has to offer, the reader will be astounded at the end result and wonder just whether justice was really done. More concerned with the Churches position on matters and hoping to eliminate Pease as a board member, the end result will surprise readers. As we meet two young teens that seem bent on fighting, one-upping each other and talks about the role of the Indian in their community. One thing leads to another and Will and Owen come to blows but in a strange and different manner. Talking about their families, their lives and then William explaining his father and his actions, what happens at the end might lead to a death, a final encounter and one contest that no one wins.
In story one we have these religious men going after power and greed by framing three in a bank robbery followed by two young boys racing and one upping each other in King Philip’s War. An Indian boy challenged by our narrator in a foot race where the final outcome is tragic. What about Orpha and the “Whaling widow,” tea as one-woman invites her and another to an important tea. One year after the death of her husband Helen decides its time for a replacement and Orpha Hussey declares her husband dead after all he’s been gone for five years and it seems he’s not coming back. As Orpha decides to rid herself of her husband his mother appears and things take on a different light. A she explains what will happen if she deserts her son, the consequences she will face. But, Orpha is relentless and has agreed to take in a young girl whose parents are away and their relationship seems odd and the end result for both quite unexpected.
A Captain of a ship returns after many years and lives with a secret that he has kept for so long. A son who wants little to do with him and a daughter-in-law that reads him quite well as the story titled Taste takes on quite a different culinary delights. Imagine taking your grandson for an outing with your son and losing sight of your son and having the urge to eat something. Cannibalism is the theme for this story and in order for this man to survive in the past it required that he eat some of the crew. But, how this plays out and how he’s found out you will have to ask Jasper, his grandson but be quick before his arm disappears. Next, we meet an African American schoolteacher, her discussion with a young boy who was to remain after school, stalked by her students and her only wish to go home and eat a warm meal. In each of these first stories before beginning part two each of the characters seems out of place in their environment, out of place within their community and insecure in their own right. As William Pease tries to find justice and is deemed an outcast, a young boy decides to prove to his friend that he is capable of doing something dangerous.
Coming to the 20th century we see an entire change in the way Nantucket looks and from a whaling town to a tourist town. Within this section and throughout the stories the characters seem torn by the past, incidents that haunt them as we meet a carpenter who hates his vocation, can’t wait to end his day yet his daily routine is the same. Losing his wife and daughter he recollects or reflects on an accident that caused them to fall overboard. But, did they in reality. As he thinks about what happens and meets a stranger in a restaurant he frequents, questions him about the events, how things were handled leaving readers to wonder what really happened and where this man might really be. How do these people deal with life and how do they find there way back? Do they?
Boston is the setting for another story as one man decides to give tours but not ordinary ones: ghost tours. Another deals with a young man who cannot make the cut in U Mass and finally decides to leave home and what happens to Doug what the title story: Island Fog is about. As Doug returns to the island of Nantucket to work in a restaurant for a summer job, he learns that the job is no longer his. The restaurant closed and what he’s left with will give readers a cold chill in on a hot summer’s day. Meeting someone while enroot to the island, claiming her name is Jeannie Gert, he learns about an unusual shop called The Treasure Box with its unique service. Imagine being asked to pay for a promise. Imagine being made to believe in an illusion. After talking with this odd woman Doug decides to seek out her shop and what he finds is anything but what he expected. The first trip to the shop should have told him never to return yet he does. The shop is empty and bare. Returning after contacting the person he assumes is the owner, he sees it in a new light and is conned into working as a hired actor giving unsuspected clients Hopes and Promises by fulfilling their fantasies and deepest wishes and desires. But, as young Doug learns that people are often double talked and lied to and when he signs a contract of employment it is equal to selling your soul to the Devil. Scenes that he is forced to enact. Embarrassments that he will not forget and an job that he cannot quit. A young man who begins to question those that are forcing his hand and he wonders if they had anything to do with his college failures, losing his job and a restaurant going out of business. Lies, deceit, betrayals, distrust, greed, control, power, lust and much more are just some of the issues that link all of these stories. In a town filled with so much culture, beauty and summer fun one young man would learn the true meaning of fear.
Island Fog: where the mist is thick, lives are changed, the times might change but the people do not as this story blends together the hopes, dreams, despair, fears, love, wants and desires of each character as they tell their own story. Imagine living your life through the eyes of someone else’s dreams of fantasies all because you believed and did not see what was on the printed page. Lessons learned as William Pease should have let the police handle the robbery. What about Orpha and what really happened to Ruben? Even Will Gibbs and Owen Pike: Did they have to prove who was stronger? What about Doug? Is he sorry he left school? Nantucket: Holds many secrets that are waiting for you the reader to read as you attempt to lift that very heavy Island Fog.
The research had to be extensive and the stories true to life as author John Vanderslice takes readers back in time when whalers ruled Nantucket, to social gatherings to get ahead in your status or station and the changes that took place on an Island so many love to visit even today.
Fran Lewis: reviewer