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by Barbara Ross, staring out my study windows at the beautiful colors of a New England fall
I haven’t touched much on politics or religion in the Maine Clambake series. The books are intended to provide diversion and relaxation in a complicated world that feels like it is spinning ever faster. So like sex and gore, I have left these topics “off the page.”
But that doesn’t mean I haven’t thought about them. Without either, my town would be incomplete and so would my characters.
Maine is a truly purple state with Republican and Independent senators and two Democratic congresspeople. The political views of my characters reflect that mix.
In my imagination Sonny, my protagonist Julia’s brother-in-law, is conservative in his political views and in life. He believes in the old ways. He lobsters like his father did, and works at his wife parents’ clambake. When Julia arrives in Clammed Up, he fights every change she wants to make at the clambake even at the risk of it going under. But later in the book he reminds Julia that he’s been there, faithful and loyal, year after year. Where has she been?
Restauranteur Gus Farnham is far more conservative that Sonny. I write in one of the books that he doesn’t accept credit cards or cash apps, and would be happier if the U.S. would return to the gold standard.
At the other end of spectrum is Julia’s boyfriend Chris. Raised among grandparents, great-uncles, and great-aunts who worked in the paper mills, saw mills, and canneries, he’s got an old-fashioned trade unionist point of view. Whenever Julia weaves romantic tales about her mother’s wealthy ancestors and the life they led in their mansion on a private island, he’s there to remind her that their wealth came at a great cost to working people–like her own father’s family. Julia’s sister, Livvie, has twice teased Julia about her boyfriend being a “commie.”
I haven’t written about politics in my fictional town of Busman’s Harbor. I would like to center a mystery around a New England town meeting someday. Murderous rages and shouted death threats are, if not common, certainly not unknown.
Maine is cited in most surveys as the least religious state in the U.S. I’m not really sure why the population of Maine is so irreligious, because the state was colonized (in the second attempt) by the same Scots-Irish people who settled the lower part of the Appalachians. But there is a strong live-and-let-live culture here. An “I don’t want anybody, including a preacher, telling me how to be” outlook.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t churches, synagogues and mosques, because of course there are.
Busman’s Harbor has two churches bordering the town common. One a typical, white New England Congregational Church. The other is some kind of mainstream Protestant church, Methodist or Baptist or Presbyterian. It hasn’t been in a story yet so I haven’t had to declare a major.
The Catholic Church building, I fully admit, I modeled on the gorgeous one in Boothbay Harbor. My fictional church was originally a smaller church built to fill the religious needs of the Irish servants of wealthy summer people. French-Canadians like Chris’s family arrived in town later. Then came summer people, as the fortunes of Catholic immigrants rose in succeeding generations. The church building was expanded with the increasing demand. The congregation worships in the big church nave in the summer and in the basement in the winter.
Finally, in my imaginary Busman’s Harbor, there’s an Evangelical Christian church out by the highway. It was built much later than the other churches, when people realized parking would be important for a church. None of the churches downtown have enough.
The Snugg sisters, we’ve learned in the books, are stalwarts of the Congregational Church, known by all in town as the Congo Church, its parishioners, the Congoes. The sisters attend in the off-season but are way too business Sunday mornings during tourist season. Besides, their minister goes on vacation for the month of August and they dislike the one who fills in for him.
Julia’s mother, Jacqueline, was raised Episcopalian and she’s never found a church in town that suits her. She bounced back and forth between the Catholic Church, for the ritual, and the mainstream Protestant Church, (whatever it is), never fully joining either congregation, which only reinforced her outsider status. But, when her husband was dying of cancer, people from both churches drove him to chemo and showed up, along with many other townspeople, with covered dishes. So maybe she’s not as much of an outsider as she thinks.
Gus Farnham is at his restaurant at five in the morning, seven days a week. If you were to ask him about his religious beliefs, he would tell you it’s none of your g-d business. So I haven’t asked him.
Religion plays a central role in some mysteries, like Amish mysteries, or mysteries that have clergy as sleuths, or our own Edith Maxwell’s Quaker Midwife mysteries. But some, like mine, leave it “off the page.” (Or at least so far.)
Readers: What do you think? Politics or religion in your mysteries?