Tuesday, November 3, 2020


Author:  Crissy Van Meter
Publication Information:  Algonquin Books. 2020. 272 pages.
ISBN:  9781643750835

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley and a publisher's blog tour free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "There is a dead whale."

Favorite Quote:  "There are so many things I never said, because how can you say all the things when no one is ever listening?"

***** BLOG TOUR *****


"I guess we are doing our best, little creature." So says a father to his daughter. This book is the daughter's story. It is a stream of consciousness flow through her memories and her knowledge. It jumps across time and place. It jumps from topic to topic sometimes with no warning. It is not the easiest track to follow, but somehow it all works. I am not even sure why, but the book draws me in to this woman's life, and I keep turning pages, wanting to know more.

The book begins the night before Evangeline's wedding. She has had and continues to have an unusual life. She is brought up and continues to live on a small island. She studies marine life. Her father is (was?) a drug-dealing alcoholic known for his special variety of weed - Winter Wonderland. "I never felt unloved, though he was not always capable of defining anything like love." Her mother is a part of her life but at the same time appears to have walked away from her. "My mother ... loves to be needed. These moments of brokenness seem to make her feel better about herself, her life. These chances make her feel like a mother again. I never feel like a daughter."

The book begins the night before the wedding and yet then leads to musing many years into the marriage - thoughts of love, infidelity, and the things that make a marriage last. "I want to talk about Liam. About our most-of-the-time happiness, how I'm afraid I'll lose him somedays, too, because I don't know what it's like to keep things."

This book, with its jumps, its at times incomplete thoughts, is more poetry than narrative. At first, I am not sure I can follow. At first, I am not sure I like it at all, especially as it begins with a vision of a dead whale beginning to decompose and be eaten by predators. I am somewhat confused at the jumps. Then, somewhere along the way, I am immersed in the experiences being described, and the image of this woman that is forming. I feel sad for the child and empathize with the woman she becomes. I see how she (and, indeed all of us) are the sum of all the experiences along the way.

One of the most memorable aspects of the book is its setting on the fictional Winter Island. The name is interesting because the island is described as "forty miles from Los Angeles on a scenic ferry ride with room for cars and concessions." Throughout the book, the atmosphere I conjure up is a forbidding, rocky place was crashing waves and impending storms. This belies the descriptions and the vibrant cover teeming with signs of life.

That is the magic of this book. The writing creates an aura and atmosphere that defies the physical descriptions and pulls you completely into its world. Yet, it does not feel forced or contrived. A beautiful and unusual debut. I look forward to reading more from the author.

About the Author

Crissy Van Meter is a writer in Los Angeles. Her writing has appeared in VICE, Catapult, Guernica, ESPN, The Hairpin, Golly, VIDA, and Bustle. She has an MFA from the New School. She teaches creative writing at The Writing Institute at Sarah Lawrence College. She is the founder of the literary project Five Quarterly, and the managing editor for Nouvella Books. She serves on the board of directors for the literary non-profit, Novelly.

About the Book

A former surf editor at ESPN and Southern California native, Van Meter deftly weaves her family history and deep California roots into this atmospheric novel set on the fictional Winter Island. She follows her protagonist, Evie, as she questions her love, her family, and her past on the night of her wedding, and through her, ultimately captures the spirit of wild California as well as her own volatile relationship with an alcoholic father to create a story that The New York Times called “a coming-of-age that is as human as it is wild… an unwavering triumph.” With phenomenal reviews from the Los Angeles Times, People Magazine, NPR, and many more, CREATURES triumphantly burst on the literary scene upon publication in January, and we are thrilled to release in paperback this fall.

Unique in its structure and written to mimic the tidal charts that Evie studies as well as the natural ebbs and flows of life, CREATURES takes readers on a provocative and mesmerizing journey as Evie is forced to reckon with her complicated upbringing in this lush, feral land off the coast of Southern California. On the eve of Evie’s wedding, a dead whale is trapped in the harbor of Winter Island, the groom may be lost at sea, and Evie’s mostly absent mother has shown up out of the blue. Evie grew up with her well-meaning but negligent father, surviving on the money he made dealing the island’s world-famous strain of marijuana, Winter Wonderland. Although he raised her with a deep respect for the elements, the sea, and the creatures living within it, he also left her to parent herself.

Van Meter based CREATURES on her own coming of age in Newport Beach. “I was asking questions about what it means to grieve, to love, to experience love informed by grief, and to love someone who isn’t always good.” She explains, “I was interested in digging into my own experiences with my father’s drug and alcohol addiction, his failures as a father, and the dichotomy of still loving him so much… And, I was interested in exploring what it means to have a treacherous past with a father like this, and what it means as an adult to decipher what it means to love, what it means to forgive.”Darkly funny and ultimately cathartic, CREATURES reveals the complexities of love and abandonment, guilt and forgiveness, betrayal and grief—and the ways in which our ability to love can be threatened if we are not brave enough to conquer the past. Melissa Broder, author of The Pisces, says, “At the intersection of the natural world and the human heart, Van Meter explores alcoholism, absence, daughterly loyalties and longing in this slim and beautiful tale that contains a whole aqueous universe in its depths.”

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