Eudora Welty, in her essay “What place has place in fiction?,” declares that setting is crucial because it is “the ground conductor of all the currents of emotions and belief and moral conviction that charge out from the story in its course.” Place sets the fictional character “to scale in his proper world to know his size.” Landscape elements of sea or mountain therefore can be as crucial to the storytelling as the human characters that traverse them. This week our spotlight is on 3 novels as devastating and beautiful as the waters that inspired them.
Safe from the Sea by Peter Geye
Safe from the Sea is Peter Geye’s debut novel about a young Minnesotan, his dying ex-freighter captain of a father and an estrangement fed by the icy depths of Lake Superior. Uneasy and fraught with danger, their relationship turns choppy or tender with the wind as they begin to navigate the wrecks of their past. The action is quiet but with a powerful emotional current that churned up a 2010 Indie Lit Award for Fiction.
Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward
Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward is a haunting portrayal of coastal poverty and survival in the face of Hurricane Katrina. Fifteen-year-old Esch is pregnant and motherless but discovering her powerful role in a Mississippi community about to be devastated again as the waters rise around them. Ward builds a raw but inspiring portrait for which she won the National Book Award.
Swamplandia! by Karen Russell
Karen Russell’s weird and wild debut novel Swamplandia! centers around the Bigtrees, a family of alligator wrestlers with a lot more to be alarmed about than sharing their island in the Everglades with dozens of half-ton, razor-jawed neighbors. When her mother dies of cancer and the theme park falls into disrepair, young Ava sets out on a dangerous water journey to hang on to her ghost-obsessed sister and mainland-defecting brother. Sheer originality and Russell’s lush natural descriptions explain why it was nominated for the Pulitzer.