Reviewed by Lynne Weiss
April 1, 2023
By Alice Elliott Dark. Marysue Rucci Books/Scribner, 2022. 592 pages. $28.99/hardcover; $20/paperback (available in May); $14.99/eBook.
I gasped a little when I started reading Fellowship Point, a novel recommended by a friend who shares my taste in fiction and who has no connection to the Society of Friends. This is a novel about two prosperous Philadelphia Quaker women, both in their 80s. In seven sections (“A Leading,” “A Concern,” “Moved to Speak,” “Continuing Revelation,” “Discernment,” “A Gathered Meeting,” and “Inner Light”), we learn the story of this long-standing friendship as it faces a crisis. About 25 pages into the book, I texted my friend in amazement: “It’s about Quakers!” Unfamiliar with the terminology of our community, she had hardly noticed. That’s the beauty of Alice Elliott Dark’s novel: it portrays the inner lives of contemporary Quaker women in a way that will be perfectly obvious to Friends but so deeply integrated into the characters’ secular activities and concerns that someone who is not a Friend may well miss the obvious cues.
In the 1870s, five Quaker families buy a plot of land that is rich in Abenaki artifacts and bird life on the Maine coast. They call it “Fellowship Point.” More than 125 years later, 81-year-old Agnes Lee has a leading. She wants to make Fellowship Point a land trust while she and another descendant of the five families, Polly Wister—her closest friend and “a real Quaker lady, plain and good”—are still alive. Agnes wants to form the trust before control passes to a younger generation who she believes will sell the land to a local developer. But Agnes, despite her Quaker principles, is not what she seems. The author of an extremely successful series of children’s books, Agnes (we learn early in the novel) has also secretly written, under another name, a series of bitingly satirical adult novels about the women of her social circle. In following her leading, Agnes will have to reassess her view of her close friend; come to terms with the secrets of her past; find the answer to a painful mystery; recognize that the qualities in herself that she considered shortcomings were, in fact, her strengths; and learn a deeply profound lesson about the nature of love, and her role in the history of the land she longs to protect.
Dark, author of the highly acclaimed short story “In the Gloaming” (published in The New Yorker and made into a film starring Robert Sean Leonard, Glenn Close, David Strathairn, Bridget Fonda, and Whoopi Goldberg), conveys deeply moving psychological and spiritual depths in her portrayal of Agnes Lee, who is very convincing as a wealthy White Quaker. Agnes is thoughtful and judgmental, determined and stubborn, generous and flawed, cynical and principled. You may know someone in your meeting very much like her. You might even be very much like her. Don’t be daunted by the page count for this book; you’ll gallop through the finely tuned prose, the convincingly rendered dialogue, and the absorbing story line. Like everyone I know who has read this novel, you may find that you weep at the touching insight in the conclusion.
Lynne Weiss writes fiction and essays and is a co-presiding clerk of Friends Meeting at Cambridge (Mass.). You can find more of her opinions and reviews at lynneweisswriter.com.
2 thoughts on “Fellowship Point”
I’m a cantankerous old Quaker woman who did not weep at the insight—but maybe I missed it—I’ll have to check with you offline, Lynne. But I did gallop through the book and am grateful for your telling us about it. I forwarded your review to just about every other old Quaker woman I know!
I am Quaker, live outside of Philadelphia and have been going to Maine every summer of my life so this book was very appropriate. I especially enjoyed the descriptions of Fellowship Point as well as the characters and their relationships. The earlier surprises when Nan gets injured and later when it is revealed that Virgil and Karen (the girl from the library) have taken up together, were believable but it was almost too much for me when it was unveiled that Heidi was Nan. I have been recommending the book to all my friends
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