An unnamed narrator lives in a small, seaside town in the most Northern point in the United States. It is so far North that “the highways only run South,” and parts of the Bay freeze over in the winter. She lives with her mother and her grandfather. For the last eleven years they have been waiting for her father to walk back out of the Sea. Or perhaps she should go to him because, as her father told her before he left, she is a mermaid.
She is also desperately in love with Jude and has been since she was 12. Jude came back from the war in Iraq and he isn’t quite the same, but she is still very in love with him even though he insists he’s too old for her. She’s 19 he’s 33. He is suffering from severe PTSD and the further we go down her journey it becomes very clear that she is an extremely unreliable, and possibly unstable, narrator. Or she is telling the absolute truth and the world is far more magical and romantic than we believe it to be.
This book is a kind of cross between a modern epic poem and a Bildungsroman. It is written with such a poetic flow, it’s easy to get sucked in and lose track of time. I ended up reading it pretty much in one sitting on a Sunday afternoon. If you were ever desperately in love with someone completely inappropriate when you were in your teens, you will recognize so much of the feeling and emotion in this story. The author weaves real time descriptions, idealized memories, and those wild fantasies that only the very young and first in love can have in a way that is more visceral than narrative. It is really a beautiful piece of writing. This is a book of feeling and emotion, and tradition, not straight. narrative or linear, logical plotting.
The general story of “young girl in love” isn’t usually my thing, hence the “outside my wheelhouse” category, I tend to get impatient with stories that center around young romance. This takes it and writes it so large and fantastical, though, it worked for me. That is why I really think it’s best described as a modern epic poem rather than a “modern fairy tale” or “Gothic romance” as a lot of the blurbs on the book do. It almost reminds me of Beowulf or the Odyssey in structure, only the hero is a nineteen-year-old girl and the epic adventure is to find her way to rescuing this sad, broken man (a Gent in Distress, as it were) or going back to the sea, where her father is waiting for her, before the curse of the Undines require a blood sacrifice for the rejection of one of their own. It has the same way of taking small, daily observations and using them to give context to the hero-work that makes these classics great. You can’t have Circe at her feast without Penelope at her loom. The storms don’t seem as dangerous if you don’t also hear about the doldrums.
CBR10 Bingo- Outside My Wheelhouse