Friday, September 12, 2014

Book Tour: The Story of Land and Sea

Katy Simpson Smith's debut novel, The Story of Land and Sea, features a fascinating time period that I was excited to experience. It spans the last two decades of the 18th century when the Revolutionary War is sputtering out and uncertain newly-coined "Americans" are trying to figure out where they belong. This story is set on the coast of North Carolina in a small town that sees war action simply because of its location on the water.

It's a quiet novel with succinct, often poetic, phrases and interactions that leave much unsaid. There are three main narratives going on here. The first, a 10-year-old girl Tabitha drawn to the sea from the stories of her father's, John's, voyages with the mother she never met; the second, that mother's, Helen's, coming-of-age with a slave companion and protective father, Asa; the third, John and Asa's reconciliations of life and loss in a changing world.

"If this is punishment, if God is looking down on her and witnessing her turned heart, then he will surely let her sink; the ocean is the space below the hand he pulls away, into which her body will drop."

The parts to this book aren't told sequentially but intend to provide perspective to, essentially, the same story. It's a present-past-future time frame that demonstrates the multitude of ways events and situations affect the people involved.

Looking at The Story of Land and Sea as a whole, I end up feeling rather confused as to the whole point of it all—the connections of the pieces and what Smith is trying to say. On a small level, it's about identity and finding your place, compared to the world around you and the people in your life. It oozes with religious influence and how it shapes responses and opinions. We can read about duty and family and sacrifice and freedom and expectation. It's about the relationships between spouses and between parent and child.

"This is what parents do: shape the emotions that will color memory."

With all these overlapping themes, it's hard to walk away with a clear takeaway. It's the reason I haven't shared much of the plot or the details of the characters and their situations—these things seem secondary. There's an overarching sadness to this story about things that can bring such joy. Mostly, to me, it seems to be about the holes, the places of emptiness—in your heart, in your soul, in your life—created by the people that usually fill them. While this wasn't a story that hinged entirely on its historical setting (the point that drew me to it in the first place!), it does demonstrate the universality of emotions and relationships, the experiences that draw mankind together from century to century.

This post is a stop on the TLC Book Tour of The Story of Land and Sea! You can visit the tour page to learn more about the book, its author, and find a list of the other tour stops. If you're intrigued, be sure to check out all the other blogger opinions, continuing through the end of this month!


HeatherTLC said...

That uncertainty at the end of the stories is fascinating and it keeps the stories in my mind long after I finish reading.

Thanks for being a part of the tour.

Silver's Reviews said...

What a FANTASTIC review. Beautifully and so well written.

I enjoyed this book, but the "out of order" threw me off.

My review is up tomorrow, September 26.

Thanks for sharing.