Survival on an isolated Maine island animates the novel ‘Lungfish’


Meghan Gilliss’ debut novel “Lungfish” dramatically transports the reader to an isolated island, the wind whipping and the waves crashing as life rages. Tuck, the novel’s female protagonist, becomes symbolic of the sacrifices many women make to protect the people they love most. With grit, determination, and perpetual hope, it’s a story that hits hard and requires readers to ask themselves how much they’d give to make themselves whole.

After life begins to unravel in this piece of literary fiction, Tuck, her husband Paul, and their young daughter Agnes leave their home in Pittsburgh in exchange for an island home in Maine, left empty after Tuck’s grandmother’s death. They have no rights to the land, as it was left to Tuck’s father who has been missing for years, but with few other options, they decide it’s worth the risk to shelter there until they have a better plan. 

The reader doesn’t quite understand the frigidity of Tuck and Paul’s marriage until a secret is revealed early in the novel’s 320 pages: Paul is addicted to kratom, an herbal extract that mimics opioids. He has slowly been draining the family’s finances, and the money that should have been going to food, clothing, and shelter has been feeding Paul’s addiction. And because they are not legally residing anywhere, they don’t qualify for food or housing assistance, leaving Tuck and Agnes at the mercy of whatever Paul brings home from the mainland. One of his supply runs? Graham crackers, peanut butter, instant noodles, and half a gallon of cheap milk. 

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