Keepers of the lonely lighthouse on Race Rock, off the shore of New London, Conn., had to learn to deal with intense isolation. The wife of Nathaniel Bowen, a keeper in the early 1900s, could not, so she left Nathaniel, taking their young son, Caleb, with her. Nathaniel was devastated, but continued to do his duty, until one night, consumed by grief over his absent family, he drank too much whiskey and failed to light the light, resulting in a shipwreck and dozens of deaths. The guilt was too much for Nathaniel, driving him to suicide. Several decades later, Caleb returns, seeking his father. Upon learning of the circumstances surrounding Nathaniel’s death, Caleb vows to become a keeper on Race Rock to make up for his father’s lapse in duty. After several years on the job, a stranger named Eliot, who claims to be a journalist, arrives at the lighthouse, ostensibly to research an article. Caleb’s fiancée Jennifer catches Eliot snooping around the lighthouse, so he reveals a dark family secret. With the storm of the century closing in, Caleb and Jennifer must decide how best to deal with an increasingly erratic Eliot, and whether they should believe his outrageous claims. While Gipstein’s prose is crisp and direct and his characters well-formed, there are some pacing issues, most notably in the form of a protracted coda after the climactic night of the storm. Still, the final resolution is satisfying, if a little long in coming. Gipstein has clearly done his research, and the period details of life in an early-20th-century lighthouse are fascinating, adding considerable depth to the narrative without getting in its way.
A well-wrought tale of family, duty, honor and redemption.
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