Book Review: Ellen Airgood's 'South of Superior'

New novel explores how hope springs eternal in a hard living, hard working community.

Washington, December 11, 2011 — Ellen Airgood’s debut novel, South of Superior is an intriguing saga centering on the aging sisters Gladys and Arbutus. Their tenuous relationship with young Madeline Stone ends up creating a space in remote McAllaster, Michigan for growth and inspiration. 

Madeline had been abandoned/ignored by her birth family, later being adopted by the struggling, single, but warm and loving Emmy in the bustling big city of Chicago. After Emmy’s death, Madeline finds herself alone yet engaged to a productive and promising partner. But he seems reticent to make that final commitment.

Grand Marais.

The bustling main drag of Grand Marais, Michigan, the inspiration for Ellen Airgood’s new novel.

As a result, Madeline chooses instead to move to McAllaster, Michigan, a small town on Lake Superior. Here, she’s been engaged to aid a pair of  elderly sisters—none other than Gladys and Arbutus. A complicated backstory unfolds, as Madeline is, in fact, their long-lost-step-adopted-out granddaughter. Their hope: to explore and perhaps resolve long time family injuries. 

How this troubled family finds a way to reconnect is also the complex story of a isolated, lost small town. The good news: it’s a place where neighbors will always pitch in to help out. The bad news: everyone knows everyone’s business. 

Ellen Airgood and her sister, Mariann.

Author Ellen Airgood and her sister, Mariann. (From the author’s website.)

Finding one’s way in the world is a hard thing to do. But it also lies at the core of this enjoyable and rewarding story detailing how Madeline makes peace with her past and discovers a future. Airgood artfully introduces readers to her homey and heartfelt prose and delightful characters. It’s all a lovely, enjoyable read. 

A self-taught writer and not the product of academic workshops, Ellen Airgood still proudly runs a diner in Grand Marais, on the northern shore of Michigan’s remote, windswept Upper Peninsula. It’s the gateway to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and clearly serves as the model for her latest novel’s fictional McCallaster. You can learn more about Ellen Airgood at her website here.

West Bay Diner, Grand Marais, MI.

The author’s West Bay Diner, Grand Marais, MI.

South of Superior, by Ellen Airgood. New York: Riverhead, 2011. 384 pages. (ISBN-10: 1594487936.


Read more book reviews in The Written Word at The Communities at the Washington Times.  Cecie O’Bryon England is the editor of Arts and Literature at Donne Tempo Magazine.


This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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Cecie O'Bryon England

Cecie O'Bryon England is a writer, reader, and artist who lives with her husband, the musician, John Henry England, and their two children, in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

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