Fifteen years after the publication of his acclaimed novel Mason’s Retreat, Christopher Tilghman returns to the Mason family and the Chesapeake Bay in The Right-Hand Shore.
It is 1920, and Edward Mason is making a call upon Miss Mary Bayly, the current owner of the legendary Mason family estate, the Retreat. Miss Mary is dying. She plans to give the Retreat to the closest direct descendant of the original immigrant owner that she can find. Edward believes he can charm the old lady, secure the estate and be back in Baltimore by lunchtime.
Instead, over the course of a long day, he hears the stories that will forever bind him and his family to the land. He hears of Miss Mary’s grandfather brutally selling all his slaves in 1857 in order to avoid the reprisals he believes will come with Emancipation. He hears of the doomed efforts by Wyatt Bayly, Miss Mary’s father, to turn the Retreat into a vast peach orchard, and of Miss Mary and her brother growing up in a fractured and warring household. He learns of Abel Terrell, son of free blacks who becomes head orchardist, and whose family becomes intimately connected to the Baylys and to the Mason legacy.
The drama in this richly textured novel proceeds through vivid set pieces: on rural nineteenth-century industry; on a boyhood on the Eastern Shore of Maryland; on the unbreakable divisions of race and class; and, finally, on two families attempting to save a son and a daughter from the dangers of their own innocent love. The result is a radiant work of deep insight and peerless imagination about the central dilemma of American history.
“The Right-Hand Shore is the dark, magisterial creation of a writer with an uncanny feel for the intersections of place and character in American history....Tilghman unfolds his harsh lesson with precision, delicacy, and startling humor.”—The New York Times Book Review
“I just kept rereading isolated sentences—like lines of poetry—to savor his descriptions....With The Right-Hand Shore, Tilghman remains ‘the real deal.’”—Maureen Corrigan, NPR’s Fresh Air
“Elegant and engrossing...Tilghman writes so beautifully...[weaving] an intoxicating spell.”—John Freeman, The Boston Globe
“Tilghman maneuvers through the misery of three generations, following each elegant plot turn inevitably back to its source: this living breathing land on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay….The tale’s descent into tragedy is nevertheless beautiful…Exquisite.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Rich in narrative and vision, this is an absorbing and poignant tale of family, race, and love of land.”—Booklist
“Christopher Tilghman is a novelist’s novelist in that he can hold the years in his head and then deal them out in a layered story so achingly gracious and incisive that it becomes for a week in a reader’s house the very reason for the chair, the lamp. The story of these families, race, a love that is ultimately natural and forbidden, the history of peaches, offered in Tilghman’s astonishing prose is a reader’s deep pleasure…This is a big, wonderful novel.”—Ron Carlson, author of The Signal and Five Skies