Notes from the Old Noank Jail: Native’s new novel navigates drama and tenderness

On Wednesday, Aug. 8, Bank Square Books in Mystic will host a sale and book signing event for “Plumbelly,” a novel by Gary S. Maynard, who grew up in Noank. A brief history on the author indicates the extent of his familiarity with boats, which plays strongly in this new book.

Gary and his family sailed around the world for five years on “Scud,” built in Noank by his father, George, as a replica of Joshua Slocum’s “Spray.” His mother, Mary, supported the family as a feature writer and local reporter for The Day. The family returned, Gary rowed varsity and majored in linguistics at Brown University, then built and repaired wooden boats at Vineyard Haven.

He met Kristi Kinsman, who helped him rebuild a 45-foot Scots Zulu fishing boat into “Violet,” a family cruiser. They married, continued working on boats, had two children, and later took the family on a long trip through the Caribbean and the Pacific.

Upon returning, Gary and Kristi started a new company, Holmes Home Builders, which has become a leading contractor for large, custom-designed residences on Martha’s Vineyard.

“Plumbelly” is a coming-of-age fiction as narrated by 15-year-old Gabe, who describes his experiences in the South Pacific involving hostility, abuse, death, running aground on reefs and dealing with the awkward pain of teenage romance. The physical descriptions of handling boats and navigating open seas are colorful as well as accurate; the salty language among the characters is topical and sometimes very funny, and it is a book that mariners or non-sailors will both enjoy. The author draws from his own experiences and observations, which enhance the realism of the characters.

The basic plot concerns the adventures of two teenage boys and one girl who, for various reasons of their own, decide to escape on an abandoned sailboat they have recovered in the harbor. They have dangerous, dramatic and tender moments, and the story is realistic all the way to the end.

The author has previously written many non-fiction articles, primarily about wooden boat building. This novel is his first work of fiction, developed over a decade, and it hits the mark. It could be made into a feature film, although in some cases, the films are not as good as the books or are much different.

In any case, should Gary Maynard decide to write another novel, he has set a high bar for himself.

Ed Johnson lives in Noank.

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