Yarns From a Master Maine Writer

THE consequences of the United States Post Office changing from jute twine to string for bundling letters is probably not high on your list of interests. Nor are 4-H boys trying to chase pigs into pens.

But the marvel of John Gould's 27th book, "It Is Not Now: Tales of Maine," is that such seemingly inconsequential happenings are rendered full value. That is, they do mean something if you just make some key connections. Gould connects and connects. By paying attention to life in Maine (which ladles easily into life's soup anywhere), he is quite unlike any other writer.

In this collection of short essays, he builds the case for the gentle entertainment value of the mess and logic of each day's events and people. And after the entertainment sinks in, it becomes compassion, love, and the full embrace of life. He writes in his introduction, "I was still in high school when I learned the value of everybody." Everybody in Maine is Gould's smorgasbord (Friendship, Maine, to be specific), and his appreciation of their value has been the life of the man and writer. He spins out

these delightful Maine tales and ticklers as if they and he, and the people in them, are seamless and effortlessly entwined.

When I was a Monitor editor, I called Gould to check a fact in one of the essays he has been writing for 50 years. I assumed he had a copy. "No," he said in a slightly high-pitched voice ready to pull a leg, "I used to keep 'em in a wheelbarrow, but the pile got so big I threw 'em out."

My guess is that Gould keeps stacks of untold tales in his head, and harvests them like an endless row of potatoes or cucumbers.

Gould's longevity offers readers the bittersweet contrasts of old times and new. He remembers a bank president who "kept the best horse in town" and used to ride in a buggy in the afternoons offering to loan people money to improve the community.

"Today," Gould writes, "there isn't a soul in Knox County who knows a bank president from a hole in the ground, and I've just had this letter from mine telling me not to come in and bother him. I'm to get an InstaCard...."

Through all this - post office twine, pigs, bank presidents, and more - Gould never loses his rhythm, never misses a beat in the skill and vernacular of a man who is the master writer about Maine.

After 84 years, I suggest that the man owns the state.

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