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Sunday, August 4, 2013

Book Review: SEA CREATURES by Susanna Daniel

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Sea Creatures
by Susanna Daniel
Publisher: Harper
Publishing Date: July 30, 2013
Length: 320 pages
Edition: print & ebook
Source: ARC from publisher

A mother must make the unthinkable choice between her husband and her son in this riveting domestic drama, the follow up to the author's "exquisite debut" (Publishers Weekly), Stiltsville

When Georgia returns to her hometown of Miami, her toddler son and husband in tow, she is hoping for a fresh start. They have left Illinois trailing scandal and disappointment in their wake: Graham's sleep disorder has cost him his tenure at Northwestern; Georgia's college advising business has gone belly up; and three-year old Frankie is no longer speaking. Miami feels emptier without Georgia's mother, who died five years earlier, but her father and stepmother offer a warm welcome-as well as a slip for the dilapidated houseboat Georgia and Graham have chosen to call home. And a position studying extreme weather patterns at a prestigious marine research facility offers Graham a professional second chance.

When Georgia takes a job as an errand runner for an artist who lives alone in the middle of Biscayne Bay, she's surprised to find her life changes dramatically. Time spent with the intense hermit at his isolated home might help Frankie gain the courage to speak, it seems. And it might help Georgia reconcile the woman she was with the woman she has become.

But when Graham leaves to work on a ship in Hurricane Alley and the truth behind Frankie's mutism is uncovered, the family's challenges return, more complicated than before. Late that summer, as a hurricane bears down on South Florida, Georgia must face the fact that her choices have put her only child in grave danger.

Sea Creatures is a mesmerizing exploration of the high stakes of marriage and parenthood, the story of a woman coming into her own as a mother, forced to choose between her marriage, her child, and the possibility of new love.

A_TiffyFit's Review: I received this ARC from the publisher. The following is my unsolicited, honest opinion.
According to the blurb, this is the follow up to the author's debut novel, Stiltsville, which I have not read. You do not need to read the first in order to read this book. Warning: Re-reading my review, it occurs to me that I may have spoiled some plot points. Proceed with caution! :)

Perhaps I should start with something simple: the cover is different from my ARC copy and I truly love the deep blue sea color of the cover above as opposed to the cover I am holding. While it seems like such a small thing, especially seeing as how both covers are essentially a background color with print on it, the above gives quite a different impression from the cover I have which has octopus legs emerging from simplistic waves. This novel has nothing to do with that octopus, but instead encapsulates the deeper spectrum of human emotions, and I think that deep blue with a misty shape lurking and the bright blue paint drops echo the heart of this book better. I know I know..opinions! That's just my 2 cents. =)

Okay, I apologize for the wonkiness. That doesn't seem to work correctly, but that's what the cover of my ARC looks like! lol It's a nice cover, I just prefer the new one more! Now, down to the book. It took me a little bit to get into this book. I found Georgia to be whiny in the first few pages, notably she was bitching about the problem of living at someone else's house...the moment she arrives. She promptly contradicts herself with noting that her stepmother, Lidia, is generous and eager to be grandmother to Frankie, Georgia & Graham's mute 3 year old toddler, but I was kinda making a face still while reading Georgia's thoughts and reminiscences. The author has Georgia tell us that the year is 1992, she's 36 years old, husband Graham is 44, dad is 61, stepmother is 58, and Charlie Hicks is 61. It was an interesting way to get a little background on ages, etc., before Georgia starts to talk about her family and loved ones.

While it took me a little while to get into the book, it didn't take me long to start interacting with it, if that makes any sense. My notes are full of comments on these eccentric, vibrant characters. Notes such as how I think Georgia is whiny and deals with things through avoidance; that her mother was vivacious with these secret desires she acted out when her musician husband, Georgia's father, was away; that Graham is a selfish bastard and I cannot sympathize with him despite his sleep disorder. It's those interactions that kept pulling me back until I was utterly captivated and engrossed. Ms. Daniel's writing is poetic without being flowery, engaging, and paints a very clear picture.
As deep as page 130, I was still having trouble relating to Georgia, but the story unfolding kept me turning the pages. I wrote: "I'm having a hard time sympathizing with Georgia. Perhaps it's because I do not yet have the life experience, despite age, to know how to react? I'm of the opinion that her husband, Graham, is an absolute selfish bastard." And I did! Georgia admits that she wanted to have a baby, not Graham. When she approaches Graham (in a flashback) his attitude was, "damned if I do and damned if I don't." And then she's constantly questioning his crappiness at connecting with his son. Before Georgia even gets to a new speech therapist and doctor for Frankie, her toddler, I had already decided that it was Graham's fault the baby was mute.

This makes me seem cold-hearted and unsympathetic towards Graham. It's not as if he can control what he does with his parasomnia. And...well, actually I am unsympathetic and miffed at Georgia. This is obviously not a safe environment for your child and it doesn't occur to her until the therapist makes a remark. You see...Georgia also has sleep issues. She takes sleeping pills to help combat her insomnia and only loud noises wake her up, so if Graham is unaware on one of his rare sleeps and walking around, who is to say what happened to Frankie?

I digress. As you can's easy to do! This book yanked at my emotions, bringing up questions of ethics, emotions, whether I would handle something differently, etc. I began to like Georgia more and more as she starts to realize that not only is there a sleep issue, but she's been sleeping through life and not paying attention to everything in detail like she should.

"I abhor cheating so I don't want her to cheat, but I do want her to dump Gr for Ch. But Ch's wife is still alive, albeit with Alzheim., and I don't want HIM to cheat on her or dump her either, even though she's not living with him. Emotionally messy. Just like real life!" Another status update as I was reading...and I must say that I was really pleased at how emotionally messy this book was and yet how the characters demonstrated integrity. I was railing at the book and scribbling furiously as I grew annoyed at how instantly forgiving Georgia is in some instances regarding Graham, and then cheering her on as she steels herself to do what is right for her and her child.

I seriously could go on and on in discussion with this book. In such a short time, from 1992 to present day, we've come so far in technology and this disconnect and distance between husband and wife wouldn't happen while a spouse is away on a business trip. Cell phones, emails, etc., keep us in contact constantly despite the miles. But Georgia needed this distance and disconnect to evaluate her life and her son's life. And ultimately, she no longer has to worry, sad though it is.

TL;DR? Emotionally messy with characters that seem true to life, this book sets its hooks into you until you find yourself reading on to find out what Georgia discovers about herself, her husband, her marriage, and what the future holds for her and her child.

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