The Vineyard by Michael Hurley
Publisher: Ragbagger Press (2014)
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Martha’s Vineyard, an island located south of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, provides the tradition-laden setting for a summer reunion of three long-time girlfriends, who were roommates in college. Dory, Charlotte, and Turner are now in their early thirties, single, sharing their mistakes and their lives’ courses, which find them alternately in heaps of tears and laughter as they get reacquainted.

For as pleasant a place as a well-appointed island guest-house should be for a reunion, a cloud of ominousness hovers over it. One of the girlfriends, Charlotte, has a darker purpose for attending the gathering. We, the readers, are accompanied onto the island with Charlotte and her well-thought out plan for self-destruction. Charlotte is distraught over a decision by the Catholic Church over her deceased daughter, and would rather be with her little girl than to try to find purpose or happiness in this life. However, the best laid schemes of mice and men (or in this case, women) often go awry.

Dory, the host with the Vineyard estate, connections, and an overbearing mother, is staying the course of all familial expectations, driven by decades of what was handed down to her. Turner, the last to join the trio, has reason to doubt her course, but is too ashamed to confront Dory with what she knows.

Mysteries, both major and minor, are introduced in the form of a stealthy blue-eyed fisherman – the only one who can find shrimp in the area; a glowing red light, and unexplained occurrences that have miraculous results for two of the ladies. The story takes unexpected twists and turns, as it meanders into the history of some of the local men and their relationships with the women.

Surrounded by wealth, deception, opulent parties, and the high life of summer at the Vineyard, the fisherman stands in contrast as a beacon of innocence and light; a moral compass in a world of selfishness, extravagance and greed – an almost Christ-like figure some presume to be a prophet.  That makes him a target of those with lower impulses and motivations, and one of the women will betray him in an effort to save herself.

Trust is violated in multiple ways as the women seek justice for some of the wrongs inflicted upon them by those with self-serving motives, motives that are in conflict with the trust their posts should elicit. Intimate situations arise, or in some cases, barely arise, and not always to the satisfaction of both parties.  Blackmail, manipulation, and ulterior motives abound. Meanwhile, one of the three is leaking out the miracles and the oddities of their summer via her blog, causing a stir none of them could have anticipated.

Michael Hurley’s signature style of metaphor and allegory runs delightfully just below the surface of the storyline adding dimension and intrigue.  Scandal and betrayal juxtapose the idyllic and captivating setting of Martha’s Vineyard in this enigmatic work that encompasses tragedy and hope, human frailties and strengths, of contemporary American society.

The Vineyard is a multi-layered modern tale of women’s self discovery and coming into their own, of men getting their comeuppance, and mysteries begging to be solved. An exposé of marriage and the Catholic Church drive the events and the histories of the characters and place. But where tradition may be lost, hope is not.  As the final pages approach all too quickly, The Vineyard delivers the satisfaction one hopes for, just as the rising tide carries a beached vessel back to safety of the deep.

Michael Hurley’s The Prodigal won the Chanticleer Grand Prize for Best Book 2013 and the Somerset Grand Prize for Literary Fiction. The Prodigal was optioned for film rights by Diane Isaacs, executive film producer August 2014. His memoir, Once Upon a Gypsy Moon, is published by Hachette. We are looking forward to reviewing his next work, The Passage, that will chronicle his solo Atlantic Ocean crossing on his 30-foot sailboat, The Prodigal.