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Cape Cod

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

It’s best to avoid the cliche of calling this thick, very busy novel “sprawling,” because the focus of attention is narrow—a small spit of land surrounded by ocean: Cape Cod, and two families: the Hilyards and the Bigelows. CAPE COD begins with a mysterious death—perhaps a murder, perhaps a suicide, perhaps an accident—aboard the MAYFLOWER. Details of the incident known only to the captain are recorded in his official log. The MAYFLOWER log soon disappears, but rumors of its existence continue to surface for the next three hundred and seventy years. The animosities between two of the original families do not disappear. Beginning with the clashes between grim, authoritarian Elder Ezra Bigelow and Jack Hilyard, a stubborn iconoclast who is equally determined to assert his independence, the history of the founding and development of the Cape and of the new nation ebbs and flows around the main stream of nearly four centuries of the conflicts and alliances of these two “first families.”

As generations of Hilyards and Bigelows come of age and add their part to the tangled history of their families, their conflicts mirror conflicts of their nation: religion, land, trade, patriotism, land, freedom, land, trade, land—the pattern repeats over and over again in endless variations. In the present, the battle is over small, pristine Jack’s Island, which has been in the possession of one family or the other (or both) since the arrival of the MAYFLOWER. And as always, there remains the mystery of the MAYFLOWER log. Does it still exist? What does it reveal? What do some fear and others hope that it will reveal that can affect the fate of Jack’s Island?

This much-better-than-average historical novel gains a major part of its strength from Martin’s extended cast of characters. They are simultaneously unique, interesting individuals and characters whose actions and reactions are shaped by the deeds and the personalities of the generations who have preceded them.