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The Right-Hand Shore

Cover of The Right-Hand Shore

The Right-Hand Shore

A Novel
Borrow Borrow

A masterful novel that confronts the dilemmas of race, family, and forbidden love in the wake of America's Civil War.

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.

A masterful novel that confronts the dilemmas of race, family, and forbidden love in the wake of America's Civil War.

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.

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  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from March 12, 2012
    Tilghman’s exquisite third novel returns to the eastern shore of Maryland to prefigure the events of his first, Mason’s Retreat. It’s 1920, and recently married Edward Mason has arrived at the Retreat—a former plantation and peach orchard, and now a dairy—to meet his distant cousin, Mary Bayly, the current owner. Mary’s cancer has put the fate of the property in jeopardy—and Edward in line to receive the gift and burden of the land. After an unsettling interview with the formidable Mary, Edward sits with the longtime property manager, Oral French, and his wife, who recount the Retreat’s secrets, from miscegenation to slavery to murder. Listening to the pain caused by pride, selfishness, and the desire for love, Edward feels “mauled by the pull of the past, still so fresh for these people.” The tale’s descent into tragedy is nevertheless beautiful; “creamy yellow” sunlight and the perfume of peach blossoms pervade Mason’s Retreat alongside its ghosts and horrors. 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. Agent: Geri Thoma, Markson Thoma.

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The Right-Hand Shore
The Right-Hand Shore
A Novel
Christopher Tilghman
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