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Stern Men Paperback – 10 Aug 2001

3.4 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Paperback, 10 Aug 2001

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Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; Main Market Ed. edition (10 Aug. 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0330351761
  • ISBN-13: 978-0330351768
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 2 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 6,264,265 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description

Amazon Review

Ruth Thomas's life is enriched by the eccentric islanders she lives with in Elizabeth Gilbert's rewarding debut novel Stern Men. The author describes the trials and tribulations in the lives of lobstermen on a remote island off the coast of Maine as seen through the eyes of Ruth, the young daughter of a "stern man". Daily life is tough and grinding; some sink while others swim. The hothouse atmosphere creates an environment of seeming contradictions in the struggle for survival: jealousy and compassion; love and hate; life and death.

Lobstermen fight over every cubic yard of the sea. Every lobster one man catches is a lobster another man has lost. It is a mean business, and it makes for mean men. As humans, after all, we become that which we seek.

Life is also suffocatingly dull and limited, especially for someone as feisty and intelligent as Ruth. But an oddball assortment of friends and neighbours help Ruth to reconcile her mixed feelings about island life and to decide her future (and, in turn, her decisions have a rippling impact on everyone). There is the troop of loveable but not-very-bright Pommeroy brothers who live next door; the water-fearing Senator Simon Addams who spends his summers organising searches for an elephant's tusks in the mudflats; and the handsome but uncommunicative Owmey Wishell who begins to capture her heart.

"Stern Men" is almost parable-like in its plotting and the writing is solid and so evocative that the sea air blows out from the pages. It is suffused throughout with believable dialogue and gentle humour and contains a wealth of historical and practical information--including timely observations on the behaviour of the lobsters themselves. "Stern Men" is a memorable and unusual novel. --Christina McLoughlin --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.


'Finding an Austen heroine in a lobster boat - an irreverent and observant young woman, reeking of bait - is one of many delights delivered by Elizabeth Gilbert in Stern Men, her beautifully wrought and very funny novel' Mirabella 'Ruth loves her island with a heroine's passionate wisdom, but she falls in love with a boy from the enemy island, the enemy clan... There's Romeo and Juliet in the drama of the young lovers' Los Angeles Times 'Elizabeth Gilbert has been described by Annie Proulx as a "writer of incandescent talent". She justifies this assessment in Stern Men... Gilbert's poise in constructing a plot and her feeling for her characters make it a worthy successor to Pilgrims which won a series of first-fiction awards' Glasgow Herald

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Don't be put off by the fact that this book is about lobster fishing. No, seriously, don't! This is a wonderful novel about love, work and growing up.

Yes, I did learn more about lobsters than I could ever have imagined - but as part of the most delightful romp of a plot. It's an unusual but very readable story about feuding Maine islanders, focusing on the story of a very engaging protagonist, eighteen-year old Ruth Thomas, a headstrong young woman who has just returned from boarding school on the mainland.

Ruth is independent, blunt, straight-spoken and often hilariously direct. For all her wit and sarcasm, she's a very appealing character with fiercely-felt emotions and an interesting family background to deal with - as well as a struggle to decide what she should do with her future and of course a love interest...

I thought this was such a delightful, beautifully written book - funny, moving and fascinating - I just couldn't put it down. I was very glad that I hadn't gone with my initial impulse ('ugh, a book about lobsters and fishing') and put it back on the shelf. Instead, I'm definitely going to be looking out for Elizabeth Gilbert's other novels. A brilliant read: well-written, funny and moving.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I bought this book because I so loved Eat Pray Love, also written by Elizabeth Gilbert. They are, of course, completely different genres, one being an autobiography, and the other being a work of fiction. But I thought Gilbert's narrative voice in Eat Pray Love was so stunningly beautiful that I hoped it would be the same in Stern Men.

I was not disappointed. This is a unique story of two rivalling islands in the battlefield that is lobster fishing. It is about the small communities and the strange personalities born out of the isolation, the hardship, the weather and, of course, the lobster.

And in the midst of this is Ruth Thomas, the main character in the shape of an 18 year old girl. She virtually jumps off the page, caustic and cocky at the same time as being vulnerable and lost, which immediately endeared her to me. Her delightfully dirty language and her complete disregard for the norms of island society make her the perfect heroine - someone with gumption and edge and grit.

As we follow her through her young adulthood we meet her family and friends. All are characters perfectly drawn with such subtlety and clarity that each is an absolute pleasure to get to know. The stern men of the title are the hardened island residents, like Ruth's emotionally inadequate father, Stan Thomas, his hot-tempered friend Angus Addams, the lobstering demi-god Babe Wishnell, the out-of-town granite magnate Mr. Ellis, drunk and passionate Ira Pommeroy, creepy Cal Cooley. To complete the picture, all these men are surrounded by women, strong and beautiful in every way their men are not. And all the way through you can follow a red tread of delightfully outrageous inbreeding.

We watch as Ruth tries to find herself as an adult, and as she battles against the sinister hold the Ellis family has over her own.

This book is hilarious, charming, sweet and touching. It is thorough and slow, in all the good ways.
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By Kate Hopkins TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 21 Nov. 2016
Format: Paperback
Elizabeth Gilbert's debut novel is the story of Ruth Thomas, who grows up on a small island just off Maine. Her father, like most of the men on the island, is a lobster fisherman, her mother Mary a former maidservant (and foster-daughter) to the wealthy Ellis clan, the island's only rich family. When Ruth is nine her mother returns to work for the Ellis family (for reasons we only later learn) and Ruth is largely reared from then on by her father and by the large Pommeroy family. In time Mr Ellis packs her off to boarding school in the hope she'll go to college, but instead, Ruth returns to the island at 18 determined - though she doesn't like lobster fishing particularly - to make her mark in the lobster fishing trade somehow. And when she meets the Nordically handsome Owney Wishell, her destermination grows still stronger, despite Mr Ellis and her mother's objections.

There are various things to admire in this book - the setting, some of the quirky characters (particularly 'Senator' Simon, a local with a great love of the history of Maine and seafaring narratives, but whose fear of water prevents him ever trying to become a fisherman; quiet Owney whose longing to become a fisherman is constantly thwarted by his uncle the local pastor - there's always an unsympathetic priest in this sort of story; and the stoical widow Rhonda Pommeroy); the observations of lobster fishing, well researched by Gilbert. But for me personally, I didn't find the novel very satisfying. It read more like a series of sketches for short stories than a novel. Too many themes - Ruth's mother Mary's tragedy and her mother's death; Ruth's relationship with Mr Ellis; Ruth and Owney's love for each other - felt underdeveloped, and too many of the characters were merry or cantankerous stereotypes.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Both my husband and I read this book. He really liked it. I was not so gripped. I had read The Signature of All Things which was a real 5 star read. I think If I had read Stern Men first I may not have read another Elizabeth Gilbert book. Yes it's worth a read I enjoyed the Maine lobster - esquesness (!) but I found I did not really care what happened to the characters, especially the 'heroine'.
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