- About the Book
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 amid 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 desperate paths we travel in the name of renewal.
THE STORY OF LAND AND SEA is a throwback to a more old-fashioned type of romance novel, where the romance is not only the bodice-ripping type but is also filled with the ribaldry that comes from the rougher lives of seamen, soldiers and pirates. For a debut novel, Katy Simpson Smith has fashioned a page-turner of a generational story that would seem very much at home on an Oprah book list. It will appeal to a wide audience, both literary and mass market, and take every reader on a wild ride that they will not soon forget.
Like Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall books, Katy Simpson Smith's first novel, The Story of Land and Sea, works to breathe life into history using the immediacy of the present tense. Its finely wrought (sometimes overwrought) language blends startling details of the everyday with a dreamy, aphoristic quality. The effect is to root the novel in its historical moment but to reach toward the universal in its exploration of love and grief.
Smith renders a beautifully woven epic tale of three generations of a family struggling to survive slavery, war and yellow fever in the late 1700s in Beaufort, N.C.... The novel suffers as the narrative goes back and forth between generations. The tale begins with the second generation, then goes back to the first and then on to a blend of generations, with Moll added in. Very confusing. Though the characters are interesting, they are not fully rendered in the 256 pages that encapsulate so many historical events.... It's a rich story that addresses how people weigh in on being in the midst of war and personal strife: Who are we really? Who are any of us to bestow freedom or take it away?