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‘The End of the Point’

by Elizabeth Graver

HarperCollins, 352 pp., $25.99

In a seamless combination of landscape and character, Elizabeth Graver chronicles the life of one New England family from 1942 until century’s end. Their “real” home is in New Jersey, but they repair to Buzzard’s Bay, a piece of land in Massachusetts, at first in summer, then as personal need or desire dictate, regardless of season.

The fictional Point is at the end of the bay, much of it owned by the Porter family for several generations. There is the Big House, the Red House, other outbuildings and a cabin in the deep woods. As might be expected, the Big House is for the patriarchs and entertaining; the cabin for deep thoughts and holy solitude. The family has need of both as the world changes around them.

In the summer of 1942, the U.S. Army arrives at the Point, creating havoc in every way imaginable. The Porters’ redoubt has been violated — by trucks and soldiers and fences and noise and dust — and horror of horrors — a paved road. The Army also brings Smitty, a suitor for Bea, young Janie’s nanny. His presence requires decisions Bea is unprepared to make. Helen and Dossy, teenagers, are cared for by Agnes, another Scottish nanny who came over with Bea. Helen is a wild child, whose intensity will be her blessing and curse throughout life. Dos is rather vague, in and out of stable mental health for most of hers.

After several years of good visits to The Point, it is clear that Charlie, Helen’s firstborn, and Helen feel and suffer from the country’s changes most deeply. Charlie, after two bad LSD trips, believes that he has lost his self; it takes him many years of therapy and a time of almost feral living at The Point to find his footing again. Helen is conflicted about pursuing scholarship and publication, knowing she is fully capable but finding excuses not to follow what she says she wants. More therapy. Mother and son find solace and peace at The Point, but not always with each other.

Graver’s sense of place permeates every page of the story. The Point itself is as important as the people who live and visit there. The Porters are deeply distressed when one of “their kind” develops his property instead of leaving it pristine. Despite all, “The wild clematis bloomed. The monarchs gathered on the Japanese black pines to migrate, and the asters blossomed purple and white, and the sea turned grayer, and a chill came in, followed, some days, by waves of heat.” The Point will not end; the land will prevail.