Monday, October 10, 2011

Book Review: The Watery Part of the World by Michael Parker

I read this book for a WNBA event tonight where I'll be meeting the author,and like with my last novel, I was a tad worried about the general feel being too similar as I have a tendency to get books mixed up - at least after a little while if not right away - which is why I mix up my genres so much and why I don't read books by the same author back to back. And with this one, I'm afraid I will get it mixed up but the timing couldn't be helped. But I was really looking forward to it.

Mr. Parker follows two different storylines. First, in 1813 Theodosia Burr Alston, the daughter of Aaron Burr, is shipwrecked after pirates cause her boat to run ashore off of Nag's Head, North Carolina, as she is travelling from Charleston to New York. In order to protect herself, she acts crazy, as no one will touch a woman who has been "touched". She eventually meets Whaley, a local eccentric who takes her in and they eventually become more than roommates avoiding the local pirate overlord.

Second, in 1970 on the island of Yaupon in North Carolina, two elderly sisters, Maggie and Theo Whaley (Theo is called Whaley), and an African American man, Woodrow, are the last living residents of the island. Maggie, the romantic free spirit and Whaley, the hard-nosed proud spinster, are both cantankerous and stubborn and Woodrow is the buffer between them, as well as their only link to the outside world besides the two academics who come over annually to interview them and record their eccentric lives.

The bare facts of the above are in fact true, about Theodosia Burr Alston disappearing and the three last residents of Yaupon Island, but the links between them are wholly invented. The book shifts back and forth in time, not only between the two sets of characters, but back to Maggie's younger days when she fell disastrously in love, and to a time when Yaupon Island had many residents and an active town.

Personally, I liked the historical sections better with Theodosia, but I admit to being more historically inclined when it comes to novels. While the more recent sections could also be historical in a way (1970 was before I was born!) the parts from that era didn't feel like the 1970s. They could have been happening today or in the 1950s. Because the island and naturally its residents are so cut off from the outside world, so this isn't a fault of the author but it doesn't lend itself to very much of a 1970s feel. Maggie and Whaley and Woodrow are all well-drawn, three-dimensional characters, and while the night Woodrow's wife died was exciting and sad and fascinating to read, I wasn't as interested in Whaley's obsession with always being right, and Maggie's sad tales of love lost and excessive drinking. I wish there had been more of the story of Theodosia. But it's a neat story about a couple of intriguing random facts (more trivia for me!) and I enjoyed it very much.

I borrowed this book from a friend.

1 comment:

Jen at Introverted Reader said...

I think I would like the historical parts as well. Do we know what happened to Theodosia or was that where the fiction came in? I'm off to check!