Monday, August 30, 2010

"The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud" breathes life into Marblehead

I just finished a great book: The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud.

This book wasn't originally on my summer reading list but it got great reviews and was even made into a movie. But really, the main reason I wanted to read this book was because it was set in Marblehead, Massachusetts -- my home town.

Now, I'm going to be honest, I was extremely hesitant and skeptical going into this book. I was curious to find out what Marblehead milestones would make it into the book as well as what famous headers would get a shout out.

To my surprise, none of that mattered from the second I read the first page.


I was immediately drawn into the book like any good read: The author, Ben Sherwood, does a good job creating a group of characters that I could relate to, as well as introduce a plot that I was interested in.

The part that most interested me was Sherwood's creative take on life and death. It's an original idea on something so many try and figure out. In addition, he executed the idea in a way that made the rest of the story possible.

He made you want to believe that what was happening could actually happen in real life. That's skill. 

So with a mind blowing plot and likable characters, it didn't surprise me that I finished the book in less than 24 hours. That's how good it was.

Even though the plot wasn't my original motive for reading the book it turned out to be my favorite part. However, my favorite character in the book was still Marblehead.

A true header could tell Sherwood submerged himself in the town's culture. Otherwise, he wouldn't have been able to depict the intricate details headers experience every day.

For example, he needed to sail with Marblehead's best to experience what it feels like splashing and sailing about on the Atlantic. He needed to taste for himself the blueberry pancakes at the Driftwood in order to say they really are the best. And he had to see for himself what it's like to see the sun set and rise on the Marblehead lighthouse.

Experiences like these aren't things a writer can make up, and I honestly applaud Sherwood for experiencing them for himself. The details and descriptions needed to be real  in order for the reader to understand what hold the town has on the characters. 

One of the descriptions I loved reading was the following:
Marblehead was definitely her favorite place on earth, a world unto itself. Sure, there were 20,377 people living on the peninsulas, but it felt like a small town. Most folks had spent their whole lives here and never even though about leaving. They were both at Mary Alley Hospital. They were raised on blueberry pancakes at Driftwood and Joe Frogger cookies at the Rusty Rudder.

They went to movies at the Warwick and got drunk at Maddie's. They gathered at the Landing every December to watch Santa and Mrs. Claus arrive by lobster boat fort the Christmas Walk. They married at the Old North Church and celebrated at Gerry function hall. And in the end, when they sailed over to the other side, they were buried in Waterside.

It sounds ridiculous but that is literally Marblehead summed up. 

Although Marblehead may not be the main character, it is definitely a main character. That's why I was shocked to find that the movie, Charlie St. Cloud was not set in Marblehead -- or even New England.

In an interview, Sherwood explained that making the movie in British Columbia was one of the changes he was hesitant to accept:
There's a really big thing that I wish had been in the film, but I understand the reasons why it's not and that's called Marblehead, Massachusetts. [Laughs.]

I fell in love with Marblehead and the people at Marblehead and the feeling of Marblehead. But I absolutely understood the filmmaker's decisions and the realities.

With that said, this is an honest reaction: I fell in love with the Pacific Northwest when I saw the movie. I wanted to go there, learn to sail and go to those woods and see those places. The Pacific Northwest is a character and is a place that is so inviting in the ways I always thought Marblehead was.
To be fair and balanced, I heard from a friend -- who read the book, saw the movie, and has been to Marblehead -- that the movie does a good job making the change. 

However, I still recommend that your read the book. It will give you a taste of what Marblehead is all about, as well as make you ponder what the meaning of life is. 


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