Beach reads and non beach reads
April 26, 2018 10:05 AM   Subscribe

Recommend to me your favourite novels/memoirs set in Cape Cod, Nantucket, suburban Massachusetts, or other small town seaside New England places!

Despite normally being a memoir/literary fiction person, I've been really into Elin Hilderbrand's novels set on Nantucket - maybe the idyllic setting is soothing on my busy London Underground commute. I also really enjoyed Olive Kitteridge, and despite being very much NOKD, like to look at the pretty small towns on The Daily Prep.(I also really like books set in small towns/communities where Things Are Afoot - Little Children probably being the best example of this in this region.) More suggestions welcome!
posted by mippy to Media & Arts (29 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
A Separate Peace and the Rector of Justin are both set at New England prep schools.
posted by kevinbelt at 10:22 AM on April 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

The Good House by Ann Leary hits all your points, I think. I loved that book. Her second also takes place by the shore in New England and it's fine, but it's not stellar like The Good House in my opinion.

If you can stand cozy mysteries, Barbara Ross's Maine Clambake Mysteries are really fun and Ross knows what she's talking about, location-wise.

Not New England, but I get that feeling of ocean and communities with stuff going on from Kaui Hart Hemmings's books, the ones that take place in Hawaii. The Descendants; Juniors; but maybe most of all her first, House of Thieves.
posted by BibiRose at 10:26 AM on April 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

The Outermost House by Henry Beston is mostly about the physical experience of a year on a Cape Cod beach but it isn't totally solitary. He also spends time with some heroic Coast Guardsmen.
And second the Maine Clambake Mysteries.
posted by Botanizer at 10:31 AM on April 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

Robert Parker's Jesse Stone series is set in the suburbs of Boston. And his Spenser series is based in Boston (map of "Spenser's Boston"), but many of the books are set in the surrounding areas.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 10:36 AM on April 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

The Ghost , by Robert Harris, is a pretty good political thriller set mostly on Martha's Vineyard (although the film version was shot in Holland so that Roman Polanski wouldn't get arrested).
posted by thelonius at 10:38 AM on April 26, 2018

Nightbirds on Nantucket by Joan Aiken, children's book, third in a series.

Another cosy series - The Sherlock Holmes Bookshop series by Vicki Delaney, set in West London on Cape Cod.

Philip Hoare's books about whales have sections where he's in (on?) Cape Cod. Here's an article where he talks about writing there.
posted by paduasoy at 10:43 AM on April 26, 2018

Not entirely on-the-nose, but big portions of The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley take place in a Massachusetts beach town (enough that I thought of it when I read the question, anyway). And it's a really good read.
posted by uncleozzy at 11:14 AM on April 26, 2018

Anything by Ruth Moore. My favorite is Speak to the Winds. About the actual people who populated those pretty towns in the Daily Prep.
posted by Gnella at 11:24 AM on April 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

Set in coastal Rhode Island: Spartina.
Set on 17th century Martha's Vineyard: Caleb's Crossing.
Ahab's Wife, set in nineteenth century New Bedford and other places.
Illumination Night, set on Martha's Vineyard.
posted by mareli at 11:29 AM on April 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

There's also The Chatham School Affair by Thomas Cook. As you'll see from the Goodreads reviews, this is a love it or hate it kind of book. I'm with those who found the narrative structure a bit much.

The Weight of Water by Anita Shreve is similarly polarizing. It's thick with details about a specific place and time (The Isles of Shoals in 1873). Shreve re-creates a compelling true crime that happened there and ultimately provides an alternative solution which I did not buy for one minute.

Both of these books really made me feel like I was on the shore in New England, despite various difficulties with the plot or narrative.
posted by BibiRose at 11:36 AM on April 26, 2018

Summer Sisters, by Judy Blume.
posted by yawper at 11:59 AM on April 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

I like Elin Hildebrand's books so much more than I expected to, as well! I grew up in suburban Boston and am also NOKD but those books ping my nostalgia like crazy.

I couldn't get through Maine by J Courtney Sullivan personally, but it's very much this vibe - about a family at their summer house in Maine. I liked her other book, Commencement, more - it's about four young women at Smith and how their lives unfold after graduation. Sullivan is from the same suburb of Boston I grew up in and she does a really good job of portraying Boston Irish people who aspire to be WASPs.

Summer Sisters by Judy Blume is a great book about two girls who grow up spending the summers together on Martha's Vineyard.

Not seaside but very much about New England old money preppy people: Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld is a great look into elite New England prep schools from the (somewhat anthropological) point of view of an outsider.

Several of Alice Hoffman's books take place in these settings. It's been forever so there may be more, but Illumination Night definitely takes place on Martha's Vineyard.
posted by lunasol at 12:00 PM on April 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

Thanks for suggestions so far! I LOVED The Good House.
posted by mippy at 12:16 PM on April 26, 2018

Books by Carol J. Verburg. Croaked and Zapped are breezy mysteries set on Cape Cod. Verburg has lived on the Cape for part of most years since ever and the vibe is spot on. The Edgar Rowdey character is based on the artist Edward Gorey who lived on the Cape. CJV also wrote Edward Gorey On Stage, but I don't know if it has Cape Cod content.

The artist Edward Hopper lived on the Cape, so a memoir/biography about him might be of interest. I'm sure there have been many other well known writers and artists.

Henry David Thoreau wrote a book, Cape Cod, back when it was only a remote sand dune.

I have a faint memory of a book by two of the Children who were Cheaper By The Dozen that included some adventures running a tourist inn or hotel on Nantucket. It might be Belles on their Toes, but the brief blubs I've found don't support the notion. However, I did find a reference to Innside Nantucket by Frank B. Gilbreth which certainly looks like a memoir of time on Nantucket.
posted by SemiSalt at 12:41 PM on April 26, 2018

Richard Russo might be of interest.
posted by backwards guitar at 1:40 PM on April 26, 2018

Vacationland by John Hodgman
posted by Deemonie at 1:52 PM on April 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

Had to call the library as I seem to have misplaced my copy but: My Love Affair With the State of Maine by Scottie Mackenzie is a lovely, crazy memoir.
Take two energetic young professionals fresh from the New York advertising world, drop them into a small Maine town as the new owners of the village store/restaurant/dance hall/soda fountain/guest house/bowling alley, and you are guaranteed some highly entertaining results!
Enjoy reading about coastal summer village life in the late 1940s.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 2:22 PM on April 26, 2018

Came here to mention Vacationland, but Deemonie beat me to it. So good.

I also loved Summer Sisters, it really got into the complex emotions of female friendships.
posted by radioamy at 2:53 PM on April 26, 2018

The Country of the Pointed Firs by Sarah Orne Jewett is wonderful book. The location is a Maine, not Massachusetts, fishing village.
posted by Elsie at 2:54 PM on April 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

If you liked Olive Kittredge, The Burgess Boys is wonderful (also by Elizabeth Strout) and set partially in Maine. Also, Maggie Shipstead's Seating Arrangments is set in a Maine summer town and is very readable.
posted by luckdragon at 3:29 PM on April 26, 2018

Vacationland: True Stories from Painful Beaches is a very funny memoir by John Hodgman, which spends a lot of time in Maine on the eponymous painful beaches. (As well as Boston and the Pioneer Valley, although they are not nearly as nautical.)
posted by vogon_poet at 3:50 PM on April 26, 2018

Jane Langton's series of Homer Kelly mysteries take place in a variety of New England locations; Dark Nantucket Noon, about a murder during an eclipse, is very good. And, yes, The Outermost House.
posted by ALeaflikeStructure at 4:10 PM on April 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

The Emperor of Ocean Park and other work by Stephen Carter is set on Martha's Vineyard.
posted by brookeb at 4:49 PM on April 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

The Lobster Chronicles by Linda Greenlaw. A year in the life of a lobsterwoman.
posted by SemiSalt at 5:39 PM on April 26, 2018

Maybe Archer Mayor's Vermont-based Joe Gunther series of mysteries.
posted by the twistinside at 5:53 PM on April 26, 2018

A Summer Place by Sloan Wilson is a late 1950's Classic about romance and cottage politics. Swell movie with a memorable song.
posted by ovvl at 8:47 PM on April 26, 2018

Theophilus North by Thornton Wilder
Theophilus_North is an outsider who looks on the 1920s Newport society with a benevolent eye
a bit old-fashioned and quaint in tone and subject but warm-hearted
includes some interesting reflections on the human spirit
posted by bluedora at 11:15 PM on April 26, 2018

The Country of the Pointed Firs by Sarah Orne Jewett is wonderful book. The location is a Maine, not Massachusetts, fishing village.

The Country of the Pointed Firs is absolutely amazing. So good. In almost all ways, it's a perfect novel. I highly recommend it.

If you've not read it, the first part of Moby Dick, before the ship departs Nantucket, may scratch part of your itch.
posted by OmieWise at 7:32 AM on April 27, 2018

In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick is non-fiction and historical instead of memoirish, but has some great Nantucketing in it!

If you're up for horror novels, Stephen King is usually a good choice to get some of the creepy New England feeling. On that tack, Joe Hill's NOS4A2 and Horns are both set in New England and (for me at least) evoke some good New Englandness despite New Englandness not being the main focus.
posted by quatsch at 11:56 AM on April 27, 2018

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