Set in a small coastal town in North Carolina during the waning years of the American Revolution, this incandescent debut novel follows three generations of family--fathers and daughters, mother and son, master and slave, characters who yearn for redemption amidst a heady brew of war, kidnapping, slavery, and love.Read more...
Set in a small coastal town in North Carolina during the waning years of the American Revolution, this incandescent debut novel follows three generations of family--fathers and daughters, mother and son, master and slave, characters who yearn for redemption amidst a heady brew of war, kidnapping, slavery, and love.
Drawn to the ocean, ten-year-old Tabitha wanders the marshes of her small coastal village and listens to her father's stories about his pirate voyages and the mother she never knew. Since the loss of his wife Helen, John has remained land-bound for their daughter, but when Tab contracts yellow fever, he turns to the sea once more. Desperate to save his daughter, he takes her aboard a sloop bound for Bermuda, hoping the salt air will heal her.
Years before, Helen herself was raised by a widowed father. Asa, the devout owner of a small plantation, gives his daughter a young slave named Moll for her tenth birthday. Left largely on their own, Helen and Moll develop a close but uneasy companionship. Helen gradually takes over the running of the plantation as the girls grow up, but when she meets John, the pirate turned Continental soldier, she flouts convention and her father's wishes by falling in love. Moll, meanwhile, is forced into marriage with a stranger. Her only solace is her son, Davy, whom she will protect with a passion that defies the bounds of slavery.
In this elegant, evocative, and haunting debut, Katy Simpson Smith captures the singular love between parent and child, the devastation of love lost, and the lonely paths we travel in the name of renewal.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2014-06-02
- Reviewer: Staff
A bereaved father and his son-in-law struggle to understand the tragedies that have befallen them in Smith’s debut novel, which is set among the marshes of coastal North Carolina during the uncertain time of the American Revolution. John, a widowed soldier, is perplexed by the faith of others in a God who takes so much and gives so little. When his beloved daughter, Tabitha, contracts yellow fever, he stows her away with him on a schooner bound for Bermuda in a desperate attempt to curb the ravages of the disease. Tabitha’s grandfather, Asa, owner of a small plantation called Long Ridge, grieves over the loss of his granddaughter. He also mourns her mother, his only daughter Helen, whom John stole away for a happy interlude of love and freedom on the high seas before her untimely death in childbirth. Helen’s slave companion, Moll, like Asa, feels left behind, married off to another slave she did not know. Her only consolation is her feisty first-born son Davy, although she has other children, all girls. When John decides to strike out over land on a journey westward, Moll’s heart is irrevocably shattered. Smith’s soulful language of loss is almost biblical, and the descriptions of her characters’ sorrows are poetic and moving. (Aug.)
Three generations of coastal life and loss
The Story of Land and Sea follows three generations of a Revolutionary-era family struggling with life and death, freedom and slavery as they make a life in a small coastal town in North Carolina. Ten-year-old Tabitha is enthralled by her father’s stories of the sea and of his elopement aboard ship with her mother, Helen, whom she never knew. John gave up the sea when Tabitha was born and Helen died, returning to it only when he feels his last hope lies in the healing salt air.
Helen was raised by her own widowed father, Asa, who taught the girl to run their plantation. He bought her a servant girl, Moll, and the two girls grew up as close to friends as a master and her slave can be. But when Helen met John, the pirate-turned-Continental soldier, and fell in love, Asa watched her restraint melt away. Moll, on the other hand, is married against her will to a virtual stranger, but finds solace in her first son, Davy, whom she swears to protect from the hardships of the world.
Though John and Asa share the same losses, they find themselves continuously at odds, each wanting the other to forgive him for unspoken sins. John, whose truest happiness in life was borne on the waves, leaves the sea behind to deal with his grief. Asa, who has resented the sea since it returned to him a daughter who would die soon after, restores a small boat and teaches himself to row, seeking the solace of the salt water that Helen had found years before.
Still only in her 20s, New -Orleans-based Smith received a Ph.D. in history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill before earning her MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminar. The Story of Land and Sea is a striking debut novel that reads like poetry and will linger like mythology, as Simpson’s language and metaphors weave threads of magic through each sentence.