Zachary Ezra Rawlins is in the middle of his story. A story that was punctuated too early as a child that is continuing now as adult. Zachary Ezra Rawlins is the son a fortune-teller who finds solace and safety in books and stories. The son of a fortune teller is on a quest entangled with Time, Fate, the Moon, and the Harbor of all stories.
If you the books you read must have concrete plot and solid narrative structure, you will not like this book. There really isn’t much of a conflict or narrative drive for most of the novel. Instead, we get pieces of Zachary’s story interspersed with fairy tales and stories from and about a mysterious man that recently entered Zachary’s life. While the narrative is not concrete, it is awesome. Stories and fragments loop back onto themselves in wholly unexpected ways. Characters and events weave in and out of each others’ stories to create this beautiful tapestry of events.
Reading this book felt like I was back in Sleep No More. Sleep No More is an immersive theater piece that retells Macbeth through dance. It is a piece of theater unlike anything else I have ever experienced. The show (for lack of a better word) takes place in a five story building that you are allowed to roam freely. The story unfolds throughout the house by the actors and dancers whether there is one person to watch or 100. Or no one. You can follow one character the whole time, you can switch around, or you could even stand in one place and watch the story unfold around you. No one is allowed to speak except for when the characters choose to bring individuals into private moments of the story that no one else gets to experience. That’s what The Starless Sea felt like to me. I was moving around the events seeing things unfold and missing others (that were happening all the same). Some of the characters at the beginning of the book even talk about immersive theater, so this connection feels very appropriate. And just like with Sleep No More, I ended The Starless Sea without answers to everything. And that’s okay.
Another thing that some characters talk about at the beginning of the book is that virtual reality will never fully work because there is no olfactory component. The lack of scent will always take one out of the virtual reality. Morgenstern took her character’s theory of olfactory reality to heart in this book. I have never read anything that does such a complete and marvelous job of describing smells. Those moments of olfactory description are some of the best descriptions in the book and the parts that made me want to be a part of the story the most.
Overall, in The Starless Sea, Morgenstern has created a wonderfully self-reverential, multi-layered, loop-de-loop of a story. I think this will be a book that I read again and again and again and still will find new connections between events and characters and details.
What a way to start 2021 and CBR13