At one point in Alice Elliott Dark’s marvelous second novel, a character says, “Howards End reminds me of Leeward Cottage.” Another character quickly responds: “I can see that. Except for the conflict about who will inherit it.” This short exchange wonderfully encapsulates the drama in Fellowship Point, whose intricate plot and precise prose sparkle like the waters off the Maine coast where the book is set.
The Fellowship Point peninsula hosts a handful of old-money summer cottages, including those owned by two wealthy matriarchs, lifelong friends Agnes Lee of Leeward Cottage and Polly Wister, who lives next door at Meadowlea. The tip of Fellowship Point contains 35 acres of undeveloped land known as the Sank (short for “sanctuary”), where an eager developer intends to build a resort. Therein lies the novel’s central conflict.
The cottage homeowners are part of a small association that manages the Sank, and Agnes has one goal before she dies: to dissolve the association and preserve the land forever. Polly would also like to see the land protected, but her eldest son is friends with the developer, so things get complicated.
Agnes and Polly could hardly be more different. Agnes, who never married, is the author of a successful series of children’s books and (anonymously) a series of popular adult novels. Polly has devoted her life to the happiness of her professor husband and now-grown children. Despite their differences, Polly and Agnes are united by their long lives together and the tragic losses they’ve experienced, which Dark gradually reveals.
As with old cottages, there is plenty of history to relate, and the story unfolds via alternating viewpoints from 2000 through 2008, with lengthy letters flashing back to the early 1960s. There’s also a host of well-drawn characters, including Maud, a young editor who’s urging the reluctant Agnes to write a memoir.
The contemporary conflict occurs during a time of millennial sea change, and Dark trains a sharp eye on the shifting tides of money, class, marriage and land ownership. She has created a phenomenal portrait of aging and the consequences of choices we’re forced to make. Along with these concrete, realistic details, Fellowship Point also has a sort of fairy-tale quality when ruminating on literature and the struggle to create it.
Dark (Think of England) intended for this epic saga to resemble a classic 19th-century novel featuring female landowners instead of men, and it took her nearly 20 years to write. Such a long rollout seems appropriate for a story of this nature, and her exquisite craftsmanship shines throughout. (Dark is also the author of two story collections, and her tale “In the Gloaming” is included in the Best American Stories of the Century and was adapted into an HBO film.)
Reading this novel is a transportive experience, similar to spending a long, luxurious summer on the shores of a picturesque Maine peninsula. It’s full of memorable adventures, tense moments of family drama and opportunities for restorative contemplation. Through it all, Fellowship Point harkens back to one of Howards End‘s big messages: “Only connect.”