Review: ‘Fellowship Point,’ by Alice Elliott Dark


As I read, I thought of the famous epigraph of E.M. Forster’s novel “Howards End,” which reads: “Only connect … ” Agnes and Polly are, each in her own way, seeking moral and philosophical connections as they try to reconcile the truths of their present-day lives with the past, often in flashes of poignant recognition. A scene late in the novel shows Polly looking into a mirror at the hump on her back, seeing “a person who’d spent her life among others, acting as a counterweight to ensure fun and peace.”

Later, Agnes has a similar moment of disjunction, reading a newspaper article about the planned development of Fellowship Point: “Would this be happening if I weren’t an old woman?” she says to Robert Circumstance, the younger local man who’s been a surrogate son to her. “Would these men feel so free to disregard all my experience and wisdom and knowledge?”

The novel’s resolution — unexpected and yet, once we get there, satisfying and inevitable — is handled with such skill in its temporal layering, I had to tip my writerly hat over and over to Dark. What first appears to be the story of two old ladies in Maine turns out to be a sophisticated inquiry into the course of female lives, with time as an instrument of revelation, folding in on itself, opening out, revealing the multilayered histories of both Polly and Agnes as a means of showing a kind of existential truth: “Nothing owes its existence to something. And something owes its existence to nothing.” When Polly tells her husband this, early in the novel, he brushes it aside as too simple and intuitive to be taken seriously. His brusque dismissal is as telling as her excitement.

“Fellowship Point” is a novel rich with social and psychological insights, both earnest and sly, big ideas grounded in individual emotions, a portrait of a tightly knit community made up of artfully drawn, individual souls. In the end, as Agnes sums it up, “There wasn’t time for withholding, not in this short life when you were only given to know a few people, and to have a true exchange with one or two.”

In other words, fellowship is the point. Only connect.

Kate Christensen’s eighth novel will be published in 2023.

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