Small-town struggles: A review of The Northern Reach by W. S. Winslow

Another day, another debut! There’s nothing I love more than checking out a debut novel — I find it a huge honor to be able to read or review one because I can only imagine what they’re thinking and I like the idea of supporting those who may not be as well-known in the literature game. So I was super excited to have the chance to read this atmospheric novel set in a coastal small town in Maine by debut novelist W. S. Winslow. Thank you to Flatiron Books for the gifted ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Quick synopsis: Over the course of the 20th century, the families of coastal Wellbridge, Maine, “intersect, interact, and intermarry, grappling with secrets and prejudices that span generations, opening new wounds and reckoning with old ghosts.”

While the stories weren’t all in sequential order or directly related to one another, they were certainly interconnected and revolved around the people that live in the town — their struggles, joys, passions, mistakes, and more. First and foremost, I loved the writing — it was beautiful and full of details, which really helped create a setting that felt real and tangible.

Additionally, it was interesting to read into the day to day struggles of these people. Some of the characters were pretty unlikeable, but Winslow wrote them in a way that still made me yearn to learn more about them. Thankfully, my favorite story (about Lilliane) was also one of the focal stories — again, she wasn’t perfect or always likeable, but her back story was intriguing and I could empathize with her strongly.

I also loved the magical realism elements. Personally, I think magical realism is one of the hardest things for a writer to do well, and not all stories that have themes of it do it well. Winslow’s writing lent itself well to magical realism due to how atmospheric and eerie it was, which seemed to fit this town so well. I worried it would feel too out of place, but Winslow managed it with just the right dose.

That said, I did struggle sometimes when it came to connecting with the characters, whose faults often overpowered their better qualities. However, in retrospect, I think it the characters fit in perfectly with the moody setting and represented just how important a place’s people are, especially in a small town such as Wellbridge. This is a part of the country I’m personally unfamiliar with and I did not grow up in a small town, so it was great to read a story that felt authentic to the experience of small-town coastal Mainers (keep in mind, the author is from Maine). There were several characters, like Lilliane, whose stories I really connected with and became invested in.

I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction or multigenerational stories. This book is available now from Flatiron Books!


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