Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press

Frankie’s Place

A Love Story

by Jim Sterba

“[Frankie’s Place] is really the story of finding a place that fits, a home in the world. . . . It’s about loving the person you’re with. Happiness. Contentment. Peace. . . . In an era in which memoir has been given a bad rap by all those writers who are far too eager to glamorize their travails . . ., Frankie’s Place is the anti-expose, a revelation in kindness. . . . Frankie’s Place never loses its genteel equilibrium.” –Beth Kephart, The Chicago Tribune

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 288
  • Publication Date June 24, 2004
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-4140-8
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $17.00

About The Book

In this Tracy-Hepburn romance a sophisticated New York intellectual is charmed by a down-to-earth newspaperman.

Frankie’s Place is the tale of a summer cottage and the story that unfolds under its roof. As Liz Smith raved, “It offers a kind of Hepburn-Tracy love idyll, punctuated by mussels found in the Sound, dripping fir trees, armies of marauding mice, cars held together with bailing wire, sailboats and putt-putts and two writers locked together in their admiration of nature and fine words. I’ve never read anything quite like it.” Jim Sterba is the down-to-earth newspaperman who charms the New York sophisticate, Frances FitzGerald, after several visits to her writer’s retreat on the coast in Maine–Frankie’s place is a secluded little house out of harm’s way and the clamor of the modern world.

Icy plunges into the Somes Sound christen their island mornings; then there is a long period of dutiful writing followed, in the late afternoon, by rigorous mountain walks, forays for wild mushrooms, and sailing. In the evenings Jim and Frankie prepare simple island meals as they talk about everything from the stories or books they’re working on to the bigger issue of Jim’s reunion with his long-lost father. Although they couldn’t have had more disparate childhoods–Jim grew up on a struggling Michigan farm while Frankie lived in a Manhattan town house and an English country estate–their shared summer rituals have them falling in love before our eyes. In its starred review, Publishers Weekly praised the memoir as “beautiful . . . a glimpse not just of a person but of a time and place worth noting. [Frankie’s Place] is suffused with love of every stripe, from the romantic kind to the kind one might feel for a place, a way of life and a really good dinner.”

Visit the Frankie’s Place website.

Tags Literary


“A fetching account. . . . A memoir of families, of summer life and of writing folk and their weird habits.” –Anthony Bailey, The New York Times Book Review

“The “find” of [the] year. . . . Anyone writing a memoir would be proud to have written this one in particular. . . . [Frankie’s Place] offers a kind of Hepburn-Tracy love idyll, punctuated by mussels found in the Sound, dripping fir trees, armies of marauding mice, cars held together with bailing wire, sailboats and put-puts and two writers locked together in their love of nature and find words. I’ve never read anything quite like it.” –Liz Smith, The New York Post

“[Frankie’s Place] is really the story of finding a place that fits, a home in the world. . . . It’s about loving the person you’re with. Happiness. Contentment. Peace. . . . In an era in which memoir has been given a bad rap by all those writers who are far too eager to glamorize their travails . . ., Frankie’s Place is the anti-expose, a revelation in kindness. . . .

Frankie’s Place never loses its genteel equilibrium.” –Beth Kephart, The Chicago Tribune

“Equal parts love letter, history lesson and cookbook, Sterba’s chronicle of one summer on Mount Desert Island is a slide show of life at its richest . . . The easygoing style of Sterba’s narrative keeps the pages turning, giving readers a sense of what it might be like to stop by for dinner at Frankie’s Place, crack open a lobster and listen to stories of life well-lived.” –Whitney Pastorek, The San Francisco Chronicle

‘sterba has produced a memoir that’s easy on the noggin while steering clear of piffle”in prose that’s admiring but never cloying”. It’s armchair travel of the finest sort, and you won’t hide the cover from the literati.” –Sharyn Wizda Vane, The Austin American-Statesman

“[A] lyrical memoir. . . . By far the best recipe in Sterba’s repertoire is his implicit formula for the good life. . . . If this were a movie, it would star Bogart and Hepburn.” –John Freeman, Time Out New York

Frankie’s Place is an understated recollection. . . . A complex rebuttal to the theological concept of this Earth as a vale of tears.” –Carolyn See, The Washington Post

‘sterba handles with sufficient aplomb the love story that is the subtitle of Frankie’s Place.” –Anthony Day, Los Angeles Times

“Its attention to details of nature . . . rivals Annie Dillard’s in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and Henry Beston’s in Outermost House.” –New York Sun

‘sterba writes lovingly. . . . Anyone imbued with a love of Maine or romance in general will relish an acquaintance with Mr. Sterba and the Down East characters who manage not to come across as caricatures.” –Ann Geracimos, The Washington Times

“Jim Sterba has written an ode to Mount Desert and summer living out of love. . . . Sterba’s prose is sharp, his facts accurate, his reporting backed up by research and double-checked with those in the know.” –John Robinson, The Portland Press Herald (ME)

‘marvelous. . . . [Frankie’s Place is] a whimsical memoir that will tickle the fancy of those who have always dreamed about escaping the real world to the coast of Maine. . . . Sterba writes well, his humor is intact, and he relates a hell of a good story about a couple of writers who have seen a lot of the world – but are thankful they can retreat to their cozy Maine camp overlooking Somes Sound.” –Ted Marks, The Kent Tribune

‘readers will share with Sterba the sights, the sounds, the smells and the daily routines of Frankie’s Place on Mount Desert Island. . . . Once read and loved, [it] will find its place on the kitchen shelf of many homes, both as a quiet retreat from demands of daily chores and as a source of ideas for many memorable meals.” –Cheryll Warren, The Argus-Press

“A very good read. . . . Frankie’s Place, a romantic and ironic view of summer, summer people and Mount Desert Island, is a rarity.” –Alice Wilkinson, Ellsworth American

‘sterba’s prose is sharp. . . . [A] well-written, light-hearted memoir.” –John Robinson, Maine Sunday Telegram

“As comfortable as a conversation over the breakfast table.” –Nan Lincoln, Bar Harbor Times

“A celebration of a rustic WASP summer haven and a charming look back at [a] couple’s courtship.” –The Week

“[Sterba] writes with an open heart, a charming voice and one eye on the fish stew. He may have not only cooked up a pleasing memoir, but also the perfect antidote for Mainers who sigh and quietly say, “Here come the summer people.”” –Kirsten Cappy, The Lewiston Sun Journal

“An interesting and entertaining read devoid of the ego that usually accompanies those look-what-I-did and look-who-I-know tomes from longtime journalists.” –Earl Brechlin, Mount Desert Islander

“[Sterba] has a keen appreciation of the sense of place that comes naturally to Frankie’s wealthy and accomplished family. His rambling, low-key storytelling style carries us along agreeably.” –Yankee Magazine

“A beautiful memoir, giving a glimpse not just of a person but of a time and a place worth noting. . . . Sterba’s journalistic edge keeps the prose far from mushy. . . . [Frankie’s Place] is a work suffused with love of every stripe, from the romantic kind to the kind one might feel for a place, a way of life and a really good dinner.” –Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“The perfect summer read about an exceptional summer destination. . . . The author’s prose is lovely, his self-deprecating humor endearing.” –Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“A highly entertaining tale of love, family and place written with grace and lyrical humor. It took me places I hadn’t expected to go, well beyond the screen doors, front porches and bracing waters of coastal Maine. I loved it.” –Tom Brokaw

“Jim Sterba has found his own American Arcadia, his own Walden pond, and in the process, himself. He records his quest with a loving honesty, never sentimental, never cloying . . .a man taking stock of his life at a certain time of life. What’s more, it includes recipes for some delicious grub.” –Morley Safer

“A memoir almost audacious in its normalcy: it’s the story of a middle-aged white guy with no obvious dysfunctions or ghosts in his closet. What James Sterba does have–and has in abundance–is charm, humor, and a wonderful gift for capturing the rhythms and pleasures of July days whiled away on the Maine coast. Sterba is great company on the page, and Frankie’s Place succeeds, like no other book I know, in getting the quotidian glories of a New England summer between two covers.” –Michael Pollan, author of The Botany of Desire and Second Nature

“And so what category does this delightful book fall into–travel book, cookbook, journalistic memoir? In the end it doesn’t matter: Frankie’s Place is charming, funny, full of insights into the way we live today, and it’s the story of one man’s lifelong search for a home.” –David Halberstam

Frankie’s Place is quite simply a joy to read–a portrait of a place, a way of life, and a marriage, by a reporter who turns out to be the world’s last extant romantic. Not to mention a great natural cook–who gives us, in addition to everything else, his recipes.” –Joan Didion

“Every word of this wonderful love story speaks of solid, old-fashioned ideals. It is an honest, often hilariously funny book that tells a love story you’ll not soon forget. A selection of curious, downeast recipes is an added lagniappe.” –Peter Duchin, author of Ghost of A Chance: A Memoir

Frankie’s Place has tremendous natural charm; it’s the witty and wonderfully observed narrative of a summer’s action Down East. It should fit very nicely into anyone’s beach bag, though it helps if you’re attracted to islands, Maine lore, lost fathers, the absurdities of the reporter’s trade, and love stories.” –Ward Just

“Jim Sterba made his name as a courageous foreign correspondent–a restless, gifted journalistic explorer. But in the middle of his odyssey the wind changed, and, most extraordinarily, he found his way home. We can’t all be so fortunate, but we can do ourselves the favor of reading Frankie’s Place.” –Michael Janeway


A New York Times Book Review Notable Book
A Publishers Weekly Book of the Year
Included on top summer reading lists by USA Today and The Austin American-Statesman
A Book Sense Top Ten Valentine’s Day Books Selection


Chapter One

The first thing we did that summer was jump into the sea naked. We tore off our travel clothes, grabbed a couple of old beach towels, and padded off the porch on tender feet.

We followed a pine-needle path that led through ferns and bayberry bushes, ouching our way over twigs and roots and then past a dwarf juniper to a lichen-encrusted granite ledge above Somes Sound. The path switched back over a series of smooth, descending ledges and down a rounded ridge to massive rocks matted with seaweed, encrusted with tiny white barnacles, and dotted with periwinkles. The tide was receding and the rocks and seaweed were wet and slippery.

At the water’s edge we moved quickly. This wasn’t a time for contemplation. The Jess brainwork the better. It was important not to think about the incoming tides that pushed enormous volumes of seawater up the sound from the open ocean. This was water that had found its way from the Arctic, branching off the Labrador Current and curling around Nova Scotia to the Maine coast.

The idea was to jump before ten thousand anticipatory nerve endings began a chorus of, “Don’t be a Fool!” Keeping toes from making contact with the water was mandatory lest they send an urgent loony-alert message to the brain. Headfirst was best. The question was who would jump first. We giggled. We grimaced. Frankie feigned a leap. I took the bait and jumped.

It is difficult to describe in any quiet way the sensation of a pampered urban body, humming along metabolically at 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, being swallowed up by an unruly monster of nature approximately forty degrees colder. But I felt two involuntary urges. One was to scream. The other was to get the hell out of there!

Doing either one, however, was extremely bad form. As the initial plunger, I was required by tradition to come to the surface nonchalantly and exhibit no signs of urgency. I couldn’t lunge for shore. I had to pretend I had just jumped into the Caribbean. Frankie laughed knowingly, uttered an obligatory, “No way!” And jumped.

Now, an unspoken sense of solidarity came into play as we cheered each other and scrambled back onto the rocks, nerve endings in a welcome work stoppage.

“Not bad,” I said.

“Nonsense, it’s never been so cold,” she said. “Brrrr!”

As we stood on the rocks, like a couple of walking goose bumps, wet and salty, I felt a warm glow inside. I felt the sun’s warmth outside. I jumped again. Frankie followed. The water felt warmer this time. But it didn’t feel that way for long, so we scrambled out. By this time millions of brain cells were on red alert, demanding an immediate halt to the proceedings. We wrapped ourselves in towels and padded up the rocks to the porch.

Thus the summer officially began.

It was a Saturday, the second day of July, and we spent much of it unpacking and settling in for a long stay. We planned a summer that would extend deep into autumn, beyond Labor Day when most summer people departed. We had brought enough work to keep us busy until the middle of October.

We emptied bags of groceries, filling the refrigerator and kitchen shelves. We introduced ourselves to an occupation force of tiny black ants busily liberating brown sugar we mistakenly thought we had sealed in a porcelain box the summer before. We trooped from room to room, each with its faint whiff of mildew and mothballs, opening windows to pine-scented air. We unpacked boxes of books and files brought up for the summer’s work. We deployed our work machinery-Frankie’s typewriter, my laptop, printer, fax, and answering machine. Soon it felt as though we had been away for a long weekend instead of eight months. Once operational, we decided that there was no sense going to work prematurely. We’d go for an afternoon stroll.

The neighborhood around Frankie’s place is a peninsula of eighty acres that pokes out into Somes Sound in a northerly direction toward the top of the fjord. In the late nineteenth century, the peninsula was part of a huge granite-quarrying operation. To this day, slabs of its warm pink granite adorn buildings up and down the East Coast. It was an outdoor factory back then, and much of it couldn’t have been pretty. But the quarrying gradually died out, and the forest slowly reclaimed the land. Frankie’s place was halfway down a lane from the main road. The lane wound for a mile around granite and trees to the tip of the peninsula.

Frankie’s place was really the FitzGerald family place, a hallowed plot of three acres that Frankie’s father bought in 1947. When his children were growing up, Desmond FitzGerald brought them out from town to have picnics on the rocks by the sea. In 1972, six years after their father had died, the FitzGerald children, now young adults-Des, Joan, and Frankie-built a small house on the property. It was the first dwelling on the peninsula since the quarrying days. And it was a true camp, in the local sense of the word, being way out of town, deep in the woods, and not winterized. Except for occasional picnickers and clam diggers, the FitzGeralds had the peninsula pretty much to themselves. In 1975 another cottage went in up the lane, closer to the main road. But it was tucked into the woods by the shore, virtually invisible. Two more houses went up in the late 1980s, but there was plenty of distance and forest between neighbors. The rest of the peninsula remained dense with woods and unmolested, with plenty of room to prowl.

We strolled north along the lane toward the end of the point, stopping by a couple of places where chanterelles had grown in years past. Chanterelles are treasures among the wild mushrooms of Mount Desert. We made a habit of keeping close track of chanterelle locations, so that when their chalky-orange bodies pushed out of the ground we would not miss them.

We wandered deep into the forest, where the bark on giant tree trunks was encrusted with blue-green lichens. Exposed roots were matted in moss. The afternoon sunlight pierced holes in the evergreen canopy in rich golden shafts of angled beams that hit the forest’s pine-needle floor like spotlights. The gray carcasses of decaying trees, clumps of ferns, mats of moss, and red-capped russula mushrooms made the woods look like a primeval place where humans were strangers. Walking around wind-toppled trees and branches, we eventually came out on a granite bluff overlooking the sound a hundred yards north of the house. A startled cormorant flapped and splashed, taking off horizontally a few inches above the water. We made our way south along the granite shoreline back to the house.

Along the way, I noticed that the tide was low and pointed to the mats of seaweed and colonies of mussels crowded together just above and below the waterline. It was a perfect time to gather mussels for our first meal of the summer. I grabbed a pail and we headed down to the rocks, where these beautiful black-shelled bivalves clung to crevasses under the seaweed, sticking to one another and to the rocks with their natural Velcro.

The meaty body of a steamed blue mussel (Mytilus edulis) is almost too erotic for innocent eyes. Indeed, some history books reported religious objections by early Christians to consuming or having anything to do with these sexy bivalves. For a long time, they were thought of locally as trash-shellfish, no doubt because their shells clustered so ubiquitously on the lower tidal regions in these waters that they were available to anyone willing to bend a back to scoop them up. Julia Child called them “poor man’s oysters.” I became a devotee when I had my first heaping platter of moules ” la marini’re at a French restaurant in Bangkok in 1970. I became a devoted mussel gatherer as soon as I spied them clinging to the rocks in front of Frankie’s place.

Timing is essential to the gathering process because the tides rise and fall every twelve hours and the mussels are easily accessible only when the tide is low. Along this part of the Maine coast, the sea rises and falls fourteen and a half feet during the twice-a-month spring tides, when the moon and sun are aligned and exert their peak gravitational pull on the earth. At other times, the tidal change is less. But even during weakest tides, called neap tides, which also occur twice a month when the sun and moon are at right angles to the earth, the sea rises and falls eight and a half feet.

I preferred to gather mussels when a low tide occurred in the middle of a cool sunny day, when mosquitoes and deerflies were less likely to attack. I made my way, pail in hand, down the rocks to the water’s edge. There I usually stripped and jumped in. People have suggested that this is a strange way to approach mussels. One friend even wondered aloud whether I was trying to avoid “stressing” them the way a frontal land assault might. Since I couldn’t confirm having seen a nervous mussel, let alone a stressed one, I said I didn’t know.

In any case, it took less than fifteen minutes to fill the pail. I carried the mussels up the rocks to the porch and rinsed them with fresh water. We cleaned them and threw out a few mudders. (Mudders are closed shells filled with mud.) Using a clam knife, I scraped off the barnacles and pulled off their beards, then rinsed and rinsed again.

I believe that the simpler mussels are prepared, the better they are. I usually steam them or make stew. The recipe below evolved from the traditional French version because I found that mussels taken straight from the sea to the pot contain much more seawater than mussels from the fish market. That water, expelled when the mussels open, dilutes the broth and makes it salty. I wanted to reduce the liquid content of the broth in order to concentrate its flavor.


In a small pot or skillet, melt 8 tablespoons of butter, add half a cup of olive oil, a cup of chopped green onions, 8 cloves of mashed garlic (house rule: never skimp on garlic), 2 cups of dry white wine, and a few sprigs of thyme.

Chop about 2 cups of parsley and/or cilantro and several sprigs of tarragon. (Try different combinations of fresh herbs, with more or less tarragon, basil, chervil, or oregano.)

In a big, covered lobster pot, bring a quart of water and/or dry white wine (enough to make about two inches of liquid in the bottom of the pot) to a vigorous boil and add about 90 cleaned mussels. (Leftovers are great in a tarragon vinaigrette.) Steam this mixture, pot tightly covered, for about 5 minutes, or until mussels open, shaking the pot once for even steaming. Drain out most of the liquid.

Pour the melted butter/oil/wine liquid combination over the mussels, toss in the chopped herbs, stir with a big spoon, and serve immediately in bowls with crisp, hot French bread to sop up the juice.

Before we sat down, I brought up some split logs from under the house and built a fire. Frankie uncorked a bottle of chardonnay and lit candles. As we feasted on our moules, the setting sun put on a show of pinks and blues, then turned the horizon a deep red. By nine o’clock we had finished off a salad, cheese, and the last of the wine. We rose and stood before glowing birch embers in the fireplace, formally toasted our arrival, and fell into a gleeful embrace. We were asleep within the hour.

The next morning I rolled over in the grand tradition of Sunday sloth, but the roar of a lobster boat, making its way from trap to trap on the water wouldn’t let me sleep. Awake, I anticipated the opening day of the FitzGerald Survival School. I rose quickly. Frankie stirred but showed few signs of life. I pulled drawstrings on the shades, rolling them up and letting the light pour in. The morning was sunny. A thin haze hung over the Sound.

Soon we were on the porch in T-shirts, shorts, and running shoes for a summer reveille regimen that almost never varied. We began bending, stretching, and flexing muscles that hadn’t bent or stretched much in the last hectic weeks before we decamped from Manhattan. The idea was to feel out our bodies, testing how far they had retrogressed into lumpen disgrace, and then begin a glorious and virtuous comeback. I envisioned a sinewy September torso, with rock-hard abdominals. Next, we jogged half a mile up to the main road, and back, working up a sweat. Then came the ocean.

We jumped into Somes Sound almost every morning, rain or shine, wind or fog, from July through Columbus Day and beyond, morning after morning, and most afternoons, too, summer after summer, with a regularity that went beyond habit to the edge of addiction. I say “almost” because every now and then we would be awakened by an icy, pelting rain, and Frankie would refuse to budge. But most of the time, it was the morning dip that kick-started the day. Visitors and houseguests who ventured a finger or toe into the water thought we’d gone mad. We told them that Frankie’s grandparents and uncles and aunts and cousins had been “swimming” in these waters for generations. And lots of summer people did the very same thing daily, in the name of character building, or cranial cobweb clearing. I don’t know why we did it, other than that we had always done it.

The reward for this rigor was a clear head and a wonderful breakfast. Orange juice, bowls of fresh Maine strawberries and yogurt, toast made with sourdough bread, local blueberry jam, and coffee.

Maine is berry heaven. By the time we arrived each July, the fresh-picked local strawberries were being sold at roadside farm stands and by men out of the backs of their pickups. Then sometime in mid-July, strawberries disappeared, usually before I remembered to stock up on a few extra quarts to freeze for autumn desserts. In mid- to late July came raspberries. Then sometime in August, Maine’s blueberry crop came rolling in. After that, the blackberries on bushes in back of the house ripened, yielding a quart or two of the sweet, seedy orbs.

On warm, sunny mornings, we’d eat on the porch table under a sun umbrella and read the morning papers, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. The fact that they weren’t that particular morning’s papers didn’t bother us in the least. They didn’t arrive in town each day until around noon, and we didn’t go get them until late afternoon. Since we didn’t feel like reading morning papers in the evening, we simply let them sit until the next morning and pretended they were hot off the presses. Since we didn’t watch TV or listen to the radio, whatever was in the papers was still news to us whenever we got around to reading it-sometimes two or three days later. Unless it was big news. In that case, somebody usually mentioned it in town or on the phone. We got our local news from the Bar Harbor Times and the Ellsworth American, which came out on Thursdays.


Copyright ” 2003 by Jim Sterba. Reprinted with permission from Grove Atlantic, Inc. All rights reserved.

Reading Group Guide


1. The book’s subtitle is “A Love Story.” How would you describe the romance of Jim Sterba and Frankie FitzGerald? Do you see similarities with the Spencer Tracy-Katharine Hepburn films of the “40s, “50s and “60s? Which ones?

2. What do we learn about marriage from this story? There are eccentricities, certainly. What are they? Since neither Jim nor Frankie had ever married, is it understandable that it took them seven years to commit to each other formally? And two more years actually to move in together full-time? What are the potential rough edges and how do they deal with them? Do these two have a special gift for valuing each other? Is it a further gift that their vocations help preserve areas of solitude?

3. What binds Jim and Frankie to the land and to Somes Sound? Frankie has her whole earlier life and generations behind to connect her.

How does Jim weave his own life into this spot in Maine? Is the FitzGerald Survival School (punishing runs, frigid swims, spare cabin) a way for him to earn his stripes?

4. The world of the senses is important to life at Frankie’s place: what they touch, taste, hear, smell, and see. Give examples. Through the recipes did you find yourself experiencing not only the land and its seasonal crops but also cookery as art and whimsy? How does the recurrent mushroom search, especially for chanterelles, become a mysterious act of faith?

5. Sterba’s magpie mind leads us in and out of Maine, often to far places. For instance, his boyhood college course in Montana geology leads him–and us–into a consideration of the formation of Maine and its islands. How else does he ground us in a history of Mount Desert? Does the “love story” extend to love of a place as well as a person? Do you think of Thoreau and Walden in the pinning down of detail and near urgency to share it?

6. One of the compelling qualities about Mount Desert as Sterba describes it is the way it has kept its character. Describe some of the ways both winter and summer communities have kept its distinctiveness. What has helped keep it from being homogenized like so much of the rest of our country?

7. One window into boating life is through Camden Marine. Can you recall some of the stories that crackle on the ship-to-shore radio? Sterba says, “The only talk on marine radio I found more interesting than the conversation on Camden Marine was fisherman talk. Sometimes they talked to one another late at night in the Gulf of Maine or out on the George’s Bank. One night I tuned in Channel 80 and heard a monologue. . . . I had no idea who he was talking to. Still he was telling whoever wanted to listen that fishing was no pleasure cruise” (p. 210-211). What do we learn about fishing and lobstering in the book? What is that keeps people in these hard and unpredictable occupations?

8. “Boy, what a summer”First, Jurassic Park. It’s starting to look like a hideaway for the sultan of Brunei. Then, a heinous crime against Ahuan and the alleged perp denies it. Now, this!” (p. 148). Explain these assaults on the idyll. And what is the new threat? “What I was feeling went back to my own childhood. Frankie’s place had become a home to me. Now they were talking about making me homeless again” (p. 148). How has Sterba thus far tried to protect himself against the loss of home and family? Do you think it is partly Frankie and her family that send him on his quest for his real father?

9. What is the picture of Frankie that emerges? One thing we surely learn: she knows her man. Examples? We don’t hear a great deal about her writing, except for the process, one of iron dedication. Her books are well-known, of course. Perhaps, too, Sterba thinks that story is hers to tell?

10. Before Frankie, is it fair to say that Sterba’s life has been defined by his journalism? He has been determined, energetic, and competitive. At one point he quotes a comment of Janet Malcolm. “Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible. He is a kind of confidence man, preying on people’s vanity, ignorance or loneliness, gaining their trust and betraying them without remorse” (p. 112). Is this a fair assessment of many journalists? What kind of journalist is Sterba?

11. The author has made a career of being a cool, flinty foreign correspondent. Yet in this book he opens up his heart and his life in remarkable ways. Which memories captured you particularly? His childhood? His later reconciliation with his real father? Explain. Were there indications of his capacity for deep feeling even in his journalistic life? Recall his reaction to Tiananmen Square. “From a balcony of the Beijing Hotel I watched a man walk in front of the column of tanks, stop, and raise his arms. The column stopped. The man refused to move. He taunted the soldiers in the tanks, daring then to run him over or shoot him. Tears rolled down my cheeks as I watched. It was the bravest act I had ever seen” (p. 83).

12. War is in the background of this idyll on Mount Desert. Reporting on war has been central to Sterba’s life. For instance he tells about the general in the pacification program in Vietnam whose driving goal was high body counts. Once, when he was presented with a total of one dead, “the general rose and walked out of the room in disgust” (p. 83). What is Sterba’s attitude toward the war he spent so long covering? In a Swiftian touch, he declares war on the invading mice in the cabin, using the terminology he has learned well. What kind of victory can he declare at the end of the summer?

13. Sterba’s down-home, Down East story is layered with imagery from his travels. Think of the blueberry news covered in “consistent, unrelenting, and in-depth reporting. . . . Reading the American‘s stories about the blueberry crop was like watching an Indonesian shadow play with its ancient story line diverted by exciting twists and turns’ (p. 131). He also compares the so-called improvements to local Maine roads (losing their mushroom habitat) to a newly rich village, also in Indonesia. The village gains electric power and motorbikes, trash, noise, and dust. “The village no longer looked like paradise. It had been “improved” and, at the same time, sullied” (p. 122). What other examples can you recall of his using his travels to make sense of the local scene?

14. How does the author contrast the modus operandi of The New York Times with that of The Wall Street Journal which he later joins? Do you see similarities between the smaller Maine papers and the larger national ones? Are the Ellsworth and Bar Harbor papers in any way microcosms of the larger scene?

15. Among the delights of the book are the satiric looks at the patrician summer people. For instance, he’s always looking for a snooty Philadelphian. How does he find Mrs. Astor when she sits next to him at a party? What are some of his observations about Frankie’s family, particularly their famed frugality? Describe the cemetery controversy. His eye for comedy is sharp, but what is the overall tone?

16. Part of the elegance of the memoir as well as a capstone to its humanity is the ending. How does Sterba connect the disparate parts of his life? Do you see symmetry, perhaps even poetic justice? As he is included by Frankie’s family, so is he inclusive of his own Michigan and Florida families. Is it his turn to be nurturing? What makes these passages moving and credible?


Heartburn by Nora Ephron; A Life of Privilege, Mostly by Gardner Botsford; The Everlasting Stream by Walt Harrington; Off to the Side by Jim Harrison