Cy Whittaker's Place: 10/26/16
Cy Whittaker's Place by Joseph C. Lincoln is the seventh of forty-seven books the author wrote about Cape Cod. Lincoln's fictional version of coastal Massachusetts is similar in scope and tone to Terry Pratchett's Discworld series.
As Lincoln populated his towns with a mixture of people he must have remembered from his childhood (the 1870s-1880s) his books often have an older, pre-Twentieth century feel to them. Cy Whittaker's Place, though, is very much set in the present day with telephones, automobiles, and electricity, though much of that hasn't come yet to the sleepy sand dunes of Bayport. 1908 was the year when the Model T was first introduced, and while cars had been around for about twenty years, the T was the one that was cheap enough and robust enough to be driven off road. So here we see a slice of a New England town before cars would begin the steady take over.
A recurring theme in Lincoln's books is of the gruff elder taking in a castaway — whether a distant relative, a complete stranger, or an orphan. In this case, it's a young girl named Emily, who arrives on a rainy night after the death of her mother. She's been given instructions to seek out the home of Cyrus Whittaker, who as it happens, is only just returned himself after years at sea. He had been gone so long that the township had assumed his house was abandoned.
Some of the adults who are suddenly found in the care of children balk at the idea and take the remainder of the book to recover from their initial feelings of shock and anger. Not Cy. Sure, he's embarrassed at first as he's completely unprepared. At Emily's, quickly nicknamed bos'n's, arrival, he's barely set up to care for himself in his old house.
What follows for most of the remainder of the book is the growing relationship between Bos'n and Uncle Cy. It's really rather like a Cape Cod Anne of Green Gables (also published in 1908) except that Bos'n at no point has to prove herself or her worth to earn Cy's unconditional love as a foster father.
Then in the last act, Cy Whittaker's Place takes a strikingly modern turn with the introduction of a custody battle. Just as the adopted daughter in A Light Between Oceans can't stay a secret from the rest of the world, Bos'n's father surfaces. After such a sentimental second act, I wasn't expecting to have the rug pulled out from under me.
Lincoln's books often walk a sentimental path but not always in the same way that the Discworld books are often humorous but not always. In this case, the sentimentality is thrust aside to show how the disruptive and frightening custody battles can be for children. A close blood relative isn't always the best caregiver. A retired, confirmed bachelor with a host of friends can be a better extended family than a distant and suddenly returned parent.
It is in this last act that we see the rest of country — specifically Washington, D.C., and San Francisco. We see how modern travel (rail and car) become vital tools in a race against the court.
Cy Whittaker's Place is the ninth book I've read. I haven't read them in any particular order and for the most part they work as standalone volumes. Characters do reappear and drift through books, with one protagonists coming back as supporting cast. One time antagonists are given the chance to redeem themselves or at least tell their story. All of them have entertained and manage to stay relevant all these decades later.