The Story of Land and Sea
Katy Simpson Smith (Adult Fiction)
Tabitha’s grandmother died in childbirth as did her own mother. “Death only comes to mothers,” she thinks and a mother she’ll never be. But when young Tabitha is suddenly struck with yellow fever, her now land-bound father, John, returns to the sea with Tab in an effort to save her life. After all, it was the sea that once gave life to her mother, Helen, and John is convinced that the sea can cure Tab as well. Land, he knows, only brings about death.
Smith breaks her story into three parts: the first part (set in 1793) introduces us to John and his daughter Tab and their life in Beaufort; the second part (1771-1782) gives us a young Helen and her servant Moll and shows us how Helen and John meet; and the final part (1793-1794) concentrates on Helen’s father, Asa, as well as an adult Moll and her son, Davy. The story spans three generations and deals with issues of loss, loneliness, and grief.
This is probably, by far, one of the bleakest books I have ever read. Although this book is beautifully written, it gives away the fates of several main characters much too early in the story, leaving readers with a lot of backstory and very little else to look forward to. Smith also deals heavily in religion and so we expect some semblance of redemption or spiritual revelation. Again, the reader is left empty-handed. But what might be the most incomprehensible decision Smith makes is choosing to devote the last third of her novel to perhaps the most uninteresting and uninspiring character in the entire book. I wish this book had finished as strongly as it started, but unfortunately The Story of Land and Sea is really just a story without point or purpose.
* Book cover image attributed to www.amazon.com