MAUD by Melanie J. Fishbane

51a8xh5j0glI was very excited to see a new book surrounding L.M. Montgomery coming out this spring. I had just started following Melanie Fishbane on Twitter which is how I originally found out her book, Maud, was being published. After reading the book  last week, I’m sorry I was unable to follow her  journey from the beginning as she shifted through research, interviewing historians and any 140 character insights into her writing process. It would have been interesting to see the choices she made as  her academic research was molded into novel form; what concessions Ms. Fishbane felt she needed to make, plot lines she dropped and liberties she took with her character’s intent.

The novel follows a young Lucy Maud Montgomery’s development from lonely childhood into her teens as she moves between caregivers, unravels her parents’ past and discovers her priorities in love.  Ms. Montgomery was extremely controlling with her public image even going so far as to rewrite her journals for her son to publish posthumously; which has always made an study of her difficult. Using the novel form allowed Ms. Fishbane to take license with her materiel and make natural leaps regarding Ms. Montgomery’s thoughts during these years of intense transition between her grandparents’ and father’s homes.  I appreciated the structure that Ms. Fishbane gave her novel breaking her writing into three parts based on location as well as introducing her characters at the beginning of book one similar to following a script.

Maud is clearly a labor of love. The structure is clear and the plot moves at a brisk pace keeping the reader’s attention; it’s the Montgomery research and provincial history that stands out in Maud though. Tackling this beloved author, with a diverse fan base, would be herculean as each reader brings their own experiences into one of Ms. Montgomery’s series. To pull the author back from her fans and separate her from Emily of New Moon or Anne of Green Gables is daunting. Ms. Fishbane attempts to illuminate her subject’s  lonely and emotionally isolated personal history against the later fictional orphans Ms. Montgomery would create.  While Ms. Montgomery was constantly reminded of the burden she placed on the family, Anne would be cherished at Green Gables and within the Avonlea community. While Ms. Montgomery was rejected by her stepmother and her weak father, Anne would be loved by her natural parents as well as Marilla and Mathew.  Ms. Fishbane says at the end of her novel directly to her readers, “My hope is that you will find something in my Maud to inspire you to ask questions, read her fiction and discover your own ideas, your own truth, about who you think she is.”

I believe Ms. Fishbane succeeded in creating a study of Ms. Montgomery’s background and character. She deftly created chapters around elusive moments in her subject’s biography. For example, Ms. Montgomery records that she burned her childhood journals during her adolescence but never states a reason. Ms. Fishbane constructs a family environment where you begin to understand the uncertainty of living off the kindness of relations and how this could inform your sense of privacy and public persona. This era of raising children  to be seen and not heard and limited female roles could have been emotionally stifling for someone of Ms. Montgomery’s artistic temperament in which Maud demonstrates through relationships between her grandparents and later her stepmother.

Maud should become a stopping point in the canon of discovering Ms. Montgomery’s works. After Anne and before Emily everyone should read Maud. With such happy endings it’s important to realize the author’s experiences and motivations in creating these   worlds of kindred souls.  Young readers will tear through this book and will be richer for understanding the relationship between an author and their works. For older readers, such as myself, Maud will provide the perfect quick read for the nostalgic and a welcomed break from the dryer nonfiction accounts of our favorite author.  Ms. Fishbane strikes that rare balance in a young adult book where older readers find a rich value at a quick pace.  I came away impressed with how much information Ms. Fishbane was able to pack into her novel without it ever lagging between chapters. I selfishly wished she had expanded on a few academic themes within the novel but only because it was clear she had so much knowledge backing each line I knew she would be equal to the task.  Any expansion though would have tipped Maud from one book into a series.  Which selfishly, I am still crossing my fingers that I see another Maud book and the reversal of caregiver between Ms. Montgomery and her grandmother, her late marriage and her career in publishing.

Remember to ask your local bookstores to order this title in for you and the other readers in your community. It would be the perfect gift in 2017 for any fan of the Anne of Green Gables but the book also stands on it’s own merits. Please comment with your thoughts below when you finish the book. I can be reached @decidedlyread on Twitter as well for comments.

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