Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Story of Land and Sea: A Novel

Title:  The Story of Land and Sea:  A Novel
Author:  Katy Simpson Smith
Publication Information:  HaperCollins. 2014. 256 pages.
ISBN:  0062335944 / 978-0062335944

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through Edelweiss free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Favorite Quote:  "He cannot keep all his memories and survive."

The Story of Land and Sea is a story of the parent-child relationship and of loss. It takes on the challenges and the heartaches of parenting but not the joys. The story is set in a small coastal town in North Carolina at the time of the American Revolution.

John runs a small store in the town but is a man of the sea. He was a sailor and a soldier, but settled down on shore upon starting a family. He is father to ten-year-old Tabitha, alone since the death of his wife Helen. Tabitha is raised on the stories of pirates and the seas. John takes to the sea again when Tabitha falls ill. He hopes that the sea will bring her joy and health as it did to his wife. This story and parent-child relationship is the least developed of all. Perhaps because of her age, Tabitha is a feature in the story, but not a complete character. This part of the story is about the struggle to raise a young child alone, the lengths to which you would go to protect that child, and about devastating loss.

Asa is father to Helen. He is the owner of a plantation, and raised Helen alone after the death of his wife. Throughout Helen's childhood, he has dreams of her life and of their life together. He heartily disapproves when she takes up with John. The story of Asa and Helen is about the changing relationship between a parent and a child as the child grows. It is the story of what happens when the needs and wants of the parent and the child are not the same. It speaks of the disappointments and heartaches parents undergo because of the decisions of a child. It describes of the indescribable loss of a child's death.

Moll is a slave. Asa gives her as a maid to Helen upon her tenth birthday. Moll's solace becomes her son Davy. She seeks to protect him from the life of slavery that she has always known. Of the three facets of the story, this is the one that captures me the most. Her relationship with Asa is that of master and slave, but resembles a strained, controlled parent-child relationship. As a slave, Moll has no control over most of her life. The descriptions of her different feelings towards her children hinge on that lack of control. Yet, she find strength and self-determination and love. As Davy charts his own course, the book yet again brings in the forces that pull apart parents and children.

The story is not told chronologically, but the constant focus on parenting and loss rather than the time and place provide its own continuity throughout the book:

  • "He wonders if fatherhood is easy to men who had fathers."
  • "Fathering had no end. There was no stage at which you could no longer improve."
  • "Little ones are the lights that ease our blackness, a'n't they?"
  • "This is what a mother dreams about at night. She plants herself between these things and her child. She is no defense, but she stands there nonetheless. And that standing is the most protection a man will ever know."

The tone of the entire book can be described in two words - isolated and sad. The descriptions of the physical location - although a small town - convey that sense of isolation. Each character seems isolated in their own sorrows. The book is not an easy read, but definitely a worthwhile one and a beautifully written one.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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