Leaving Rock Harbor
Leaving Rock Harbor is a love story that takes place in a New England Mill town in the early twentieth century. Frankie, our narrator, is the fourteen year old daughter of a mill worker whose family moves to Rock Harbor in the wake of her father's attempted suicide, in an attempt to start over in one of the "Boom towns" of the textile industry in Massachusetts, 1914. As the story unfolds, a bittersweet love triangle evolves between Frankie and the man she eventually marries, Winslow Curtis, who is the son of a powerful state politician and mill owner, and his best friend, Joe, a Portuguese worker who becomes a union organizer. Frankie falls in in love with both of these charismatic young men. Frankie's personal history is told against the backdrop of the fall of the textile industry in New England, and is anchored in the issues of class and labor that define the time and place of this novel. Frankie's journey to adulthood parallels the evolution of the mill town itself, and the lost promise of a Boom Town that everyone thought would last forever.
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"This graceful novel, set in a coastal Massachusetts mill town in the early decades of the 20th century, traces upheaval from several vantage points. Enmeshed in an enduring love triangle that represents the old guard and those who will topple it, the novel’s protagonist navigates both her own maturation and the shift in local economic and political power, as the mills boom and bust. Chace’s story is dramatic; her characters, well defined by class and personality, are vivid and true; but most evocative are her details of this particular time and place, from the smell of the mill’s dye room to the feel of a corset."
“There are such nights,” Frankie reflects, “when everything changes either by accident or intention.” Nobody, she adds, “actually chooses how they behave at a time like that.” At first, Frankie makes few choices, and the accident has scant consequences. She and Winslow and Joe have fun until World War I plucks Joe away to Europe — and Frankie quickly abandons both corset and chastity to Winslow, who soon becomes her husband. But the image of that little millworker, mouth open in a scream drowned out by the machinery, haunts the rest of the novel, especially since the victim will make her adult presence felt at pivotal moments."
The New York Times Book Review
"Rebecca Chace's Leaving Rock Harbor is beautifully constructed, tender, and irresistibly readable. It signals the coming of age of a great talent."
Louis Begley, author of About Schmidt and Wartime Lies
"Rebecca Chace's eye is sharp, whether she's writing about New England cotton mills in the years surrounding the first World War, bathing in the Atlantic -- wearing a corset or wearing almost nothing -- or eating lobster and drinking champagne in a fading but grand seaside hotel. Frankie Ross, the narrator of Leaving Rock Harbor, doesn't manage her life sensibly, but she's lovable because she can love, and it was a great pleasure to read her story."
Alice Mattison, author of Conscience
"The fate of a young woman mirrors the fortunes of the town where she lives in Chace's deft third novel (after Capture the Flag). Shortly before the United States enters WWI, 15-year-old Frankie Ross and her parents move from Poughkeepsie to the booming mill town of Rock Harbor, Mass., where Frankie's father hopes for a fresh start, and Frankie is drawn into intense relationships with two young men: Joe Barros, a mill worker and part of the town's sizable Portuguese community; and Joe's best friend, Winslow Curtis, the son of a state senator. As the three mature and world events intensify, Frankie's young adulthood is spent torn between privilege and passion, and as the love triangle develops, Frankie, her family, and her lovers live through world war, influenza, and, eventually, an economic depression. Chace writes evocatively of early 20th-century mill town life, and even if the interjections by an adult Frankie looking back seem heavy-handed, the grounding of Frankie's romances in historical events is adeptly handled, giving this coming-of-age story some serious weight."
"An irresistible read in part because its protagonist, Frankie Ross, seduces us on the first page and never surrenders our affection, but also because fictional Rock Harbor feels as real as she does."
Richard Russo, author of That Old Cape Magic and Empire Falls
"Leaving Rock Harbor brings to life the world of an early twentieth century mill town with rich detail and simple grace. Chace writes movingly about what is both gained and lost in the name of progress, not only for her characters, but for us all."
Marisa Silver, author of Little Nothing and Mary Coin
"Chace has deftly and seamlessly interwoven a love story, an elegy for a vanished way of life, and an account of a crucial and neglected period in America's social history. Nobody who reads this moving, evocative and sure-handed novel will ever forget Frankie and her world."
David Gates, author of Jernigan