By Sarah Shoemaker. (Grand Central Publishing, 449 pages, $27.)
Fans of Charlotte Brontë’s “Jane Eyre” may still wonder what the spunky governess saw in Edward Fairfax Rochester, the gruff lord of Thornfield Hall who teased and tormented his way into her heart. Now there’s as good an answer as you’ll get.
In “Mr. Rochester,” Sarah Shoemaker builds a compelling back story for Jane Eyre’s true love. Taking pages from Brontë’s brand of Gothic novel, Shoemaker gives Rochester an upper-class version of poor Jane’s hardship: a remote father who sends him off to a boarding school, then a textile mill, then to Jamaica, where he falls prey to family secrets that will erupt on that fateful wedding day.
In this telling, Rochester is a kindhearted man who learned to steel himself against life’s disappointments and the disloyalty of one’s closest kin.
Does that excuse the choices he makes once Jane Eyre enters his life? Views no doubt will differ.
Shoemaker knows her Brontë well, channeling her so expertly that it’s easy to imagine that one author wrote both novels. “Jane Eyre” is not required reading before “Mr. Rochester,” but knowing the original story will enhance the enjoyment of this companion piece. -- MAUREEN MCCARTHY
Rough Crossing: An Alaskan Fisherwoman’s Memoir By Rosemary McGuire. (University of New Mexico Press, 187 pages, $19.95.)
Any romantic feelings you might have about running away to sea will be dashed with frigid water by “Rough Crossing,” the memoir of a young woman who gets a job working on a fishing boat outside of Homer, Alaska.
Rosemary McGuire spent 15 years as a commercial fisherman, but in this book she writes only of her first year. Rough crossing indeed — we learn of her difficulty in finding work, the demanding physical labor, the sexism that automatically relegates her to any kind of kitchen work that’s necessary — usually after a long shift is over, the sleep deprivation, the slimy and disgusting fish guts, the near-death experiences when her guard is dropped only for a moment, the sinister sexual advances of other fishermen, the money lost when the fish simply disappear.
She writes about all of this vividly and well. This is not McGuire’s first book; she is also the author of a 2015 collection of short stories, and this memoir is the winner of the River Teeth nonfiction prize.
“The deck was slippery with a coat of blood, blood covered our hands, and the unfamiliar work tired us in body and mind.” All illusions shattered, I think I’ll keep my feet on dry ground. But what an excellent read. -- LAURIE HERTZEL