A very big success on a very small island

CATCHING UP WITH... Linda Greenlaw

You can't take the Isle au Haut out of writer, fisherman Linda Greenlaw

October 06, 2002|By Candus Thomson | By Candus Thomson,Sun Staff

ISLE AU HAUT, Me. -- It's 10:32 and the moon is full. Out on the town-hall dance floor, grizzled lobstermen and their partners are howling the words to a famous party song.

"Play that funky music, white boy!" the mass of gyrating plaid flannel and gray sweat shirts shouts as the band on stage delivers.

In the middle of this Down-East-meets-Soul-Train gathering is the host, guest of honor and the tiny island's most famous resident, Linda Greenlaw. She's dancing her heart out, taking on all comers.

"Linda's getting regular," says one dancer watching her boogie. "It's good to see her have fun."

Greenlaw has spent most of the summer on the road, promoting her book The Lobster Chronicles: Life on a Very Small Island, the follow-up to her 1999 bestseller, The Hungry Ocean. She's been homesick for the chunk of granite six miles from the mainland, "where nothing ever happens," even misses the island's only store, open one hour each day.

So Greenlaw has granted herself offshore leave and filled the weekend with music and seafood, friends and family. With fewer than 50 full-time islanders, half of them relatives, that's almost a single category.

She's hired a band from Portland, rented town hall, arranged boat rides and lodging for a handful of off-island friends and supplied more than 150 lobsters from her own traps for a traditional dinner.

Folks who haven't seen her in a while wrap her in bear hugs. There are busses and whispers followed by shrieks and playful punches on the arm. "Here, she's just Linda," says Bernadine Barter, an island character who stands out in her red-and-black sequined outfit.

But so much has changed in the 41-year-old's life since Sebastian Junger made her a character in his book The Perfect Storm, and proclaimed her "one of the best captains, period, on the East Coast."

She survived the storm and the disappointment of not playing herself in the movie. "I begged Warner Brothers ... but Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio got the job," she jokes.

Identity crisis

After dismissing several suggestions that she write of her own 17 years at sea chasing swordfish, she finally put pen to paper. She also took up lobstering, an activity she hoped would keep her closer to home than the 30-day stints aboard a swordfish boat.

The first book was a huge success. Her second is doing well, too. This winter, between the end of the hardback book tour and the spring paperback release, she'll begin writing the final volume in her three-book deal.

"This one won't be about me," she says firmly. "I'm tired of writing about me. This one will be a novel."

Greenlaw may be tired of writing about Greenlaw, but she's still happy to be her, even if it means doing something she never intended. "I'm having an identity crisis," she admits. "My heart says I'm a fisherman, but my checkbook says I'm a writer."

Proof is a brand-new house -- her first -- just up the hill from her parents' home. The walk hasn't been poured yet, and there are still a few markers in the dirt for the landscaper to follow. But there's a big picture window facing the water that's just made for a writer, and above the front door on a quarterboard is one word in gold leaf: GREENLAW.

What she really wants now is a husband and kids to share her life.

"USA Today called it 'Linda Greenlaw's fruitless quest for a mate' " she quips. "Moving to an island was not a good idea for starting a family, but I'm still very optimistic that I'm going to find someone who will want to live at least part-time on a very small island."

The family

The party begins with a buzz. That's the pontoon plane bringing the host in, fresh from the book tour. No one finds that unusual. What does get them talking is Greenlaw's appearance. She's wearing makeup.

"I've got to get this stuff off," she says as she enters her guest-filled house and dashes upstairs. "I'm going to take a quick shower." Minutes later, she's back -- minus the makeup.

Martha Greenlaw is holding court in a room her daughter admits she barely knows her way around: the kitchen. The older woman is up to her elbows in barbecue sauce and ribs, directing others who are preparing the swordfish steaks.

"Am I proud of her?" asks Martha, pointing her elbow toward Linda. "I'm proud of all my children," she replies, sweeping the room with her other elbow.

That's Rhonda, the oldest sibling, filling glasses. Youngest sister Beth, better known as Bif, is acting hostess, while Beth's twin, Chuck, is watching over a pack of kids. Jim Greenlaw, the very model of the stoic Mainer, is across the room, tending bar for his daughter. The retired business executive has found a new career as Linda's mate aboard her lobster boat.

"I had a great childhood," says Greenlaw about her family. She grins and continues, "Of course my friends all say I've had a very long childhood."

'Island Boys'

The same could be said of some of her friends.

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