Forbidden love that is forever young, wartime romance granted by a passion of place, redeems lovers from sin. After a prologue and framing chapters, Hawke’s Cove settles into a first person, present-tense journal set on a Massachusetts cape in 1944. Vangie, a poet and teacher, has gone from Boston to her grandmother’s farmhouse in a summer resort to seek solitude after losing a baby, but she’s lonely. Her husband John is stationed in England with the Army.
A Hellcat plane is reported down. Vangie sees a man in the woods wearing a plaid shirt like John’s. Finding her sleeping on the beach, he warns her to get out of the sun.
He calls himself Joe Green. She hires him to roof the barn and fence the garden, and gives him a room off the kitchen. She confides to her journal, “I know that John will have a problem with this.” After Labor Day ends the summer, their isolation intensifies.
Despite her spare prose, author Susan Wilson captures the sensibility of the “Greatest Generation.” The novel harks back to a time when people did the honorable thing, or if they couldn’t, they paid for it. The language is accessible prose, the tone, longing. Where Joe’s touch electrified her, John’s is mechanical. The title refers to a Hawke, old English for a bird such as the osprey, who plays house with his mate for a year before settling down.
The flashback is the heart of the book, a watercolor in an elaborate frame. We then fast-forward to 1993 as Vangie rereads Joe’s letters. The plane is salvaged. Wilson has a gift for sensual description: “The hulk stank with accumulated seaweed, smelling like maximum low tide.”
When we get Joe Green’s viewpoint, anticipation mounts. Joe’s narrative has a cubist feel. We see all angles, outside and in, in present tense. The clock on the town hall stands still.
Joe’s daughter Maggie loves Vangie’s poetry and quotes from “Hawke’s Cove Remembered”:
Mystical night of sand and sky
Speak to my heart of the passion of place.
Maggie interprets it as “that passionate plane where physical and emotional love exist.” I would say instead, “intersect.” The theme is that every woman needs a Joe Green.