The Right-Hand Shore: A Novel

By Christopher Tilghman

(FSG, $27, 368 pages)

Who is this author?

Christopher Tilghman, a graduate of Yale University, writes about the American South from an insider’s point of view. He lives in Charlottesville, Va., and directs the Creative Writing Program at the University of Virginia. Tilghman has published two collections of stories: “In a Father’s Place” and “The Way People Run,” as well as two novels, “Mason’s Retreat” and “Roads of the Heart.” “The Right-Hand Shore” is a prequel to the story of “Mason’s Retreat,” which was published in 1996.

What is this book about?

Set on Chesapeake Bay, on the Eastern shore of Maryland, the novel unfolds over the course of one long day in 1922. Edward Mason has come to visit his cousin, Mary Bayly, the dying doyenne of Mason’s Retreat, the family estate that will soon be Edward’s. But first he must be schooled about the generations of the family that lived and grew peaches on the plantation, and those stories contain dark passages involving slavery, interracial relationships and a haunting history that is, to paraphrase Faulkner, “a past that’s not even past” for the current residents of the property, both black and white.

Why you’ll like it:

The book is earning kudos for Tilghman’s ability to create a layered plot, beautiful prose and complex characters. It’s a love story fraught with unrealized dangers as well as a compelling exploration of the evils of slavery and their echoes over many generations. There is plenty of history in this novel, told through characters that bring it alive.

What others are saying:

“Tilghman’s exquisite third novel returns to the eastern shore of Maryland to prefigure the events of his first, “Mason’s Retreat.” …, Edward sits with the longtime property manager, Oral French, and his wife, who recount the Retreat’s secrets, from miscegenation to slavery to murder. Listening to the pain caused by pride, selfishness, and the desire for love, Edward feels ‘mauled by the pull of the past, still so fresh for these people.’ The tale’s descent into tragedy is nevertheless beautiful; ‘creamy yellow’ sunlight and the perfume of peach blossoms pervade Mason’s Retreat alongside its ghosts and horrors. Tilghman maneuvers through the misery of three generations, following each elegant plot turn inevitably back to its source: this living, breathing land on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay,” says Publishers Weekly in a starred review.

Library Journal says:

“After more than 15 years, Tilghman returns to the story of the Mason family of Maryland’s Eastern Shore first introduced in “Mason’s Retreat,” to which this new work serves as prequel. …The stories of the Retreat and those who live and work there are relayed to Edward, and the reader, over the course of one long day. A haunting tale, richly detailed and thoughtfully planned and written; not a light read, but an enjoyable one.”

“Christopher Tilghman is a novelist’s novelist in that he can hold the years in his head and then deal them out in a layered story so achingly gracious and incisive that it becomes for a week in a reader’s house the very reason for the chair, the lamp. Offered in Tilghman’s astonishing prose, the story of this place—focusing on two families, two races, the history of a peach orchard, and a love that is both natural and forbidden—is a reader’s deep pleasure, “ says author Ron Carlson.

When is it available?

It is waiting for you on the New Books shelves of the Downtown Hartford Public Library.

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