Wild and Distant Seas
by Tara Karr Roberts
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Pub Date 02 Jan 2024 | Archive Date 31 Dec 2023
A gorgeous debut, laced through with magic, following four generations of women as they seek to chart their own futures.
Evangeline Hussey has made a home for herself on Nantucket, though she knows she is still an outsider to the island’s small, close-knit community, one that by 1849 has started to feel the decline of a once-thriving whaling industry. Her husband, Hosea, and the life they built together, was once all she needed—but now Hosea is gone, lost at sea. Evangeline is only able to hold on to his inn, and her place on the island, by employing a curious gift to glimpse and re-form the recent memories of those who would cast her out.
One night, an idealistic sailor appears on her doorstep asking her to call him Ishmael. He seeks only a warm bed and a bowl of chowder, and yet suddenly, unsettlingly, her careful illusion begins to fracture. He soon sails away with Ahab to hunt an infamous white whale, and Evangeline is left to forge a new life from the pieces that remain.
Her choices ripple through generations, across continents, and into the depths of the sea, in a narrative that follows Evangeline and her descendants from mid-nineteenth century Nantucket to Boston, Brazil, Florence, and Idaho. Moving, beautifully written, and elegantly conceived, Wild and Distant Seas takes Moby-Dick as its starting point, but Tara Karr Roberts brings four remarkable women to life in a spellbinding epic all her own.
About the Author: Tara Karr Roberts is a freelance writer, newspaper columnist, and journalism and English instructor at the University of Idaho. She is a lifelong Idahoan who grew up along the Pend Oreille River and now lives in Moscow, Idaho, with her family.
A Note From the Publisher
LibraryReads votes due by 12/1/23.
"Roberts writes with confidence and dynamic range, mixing earthy details of dead fish and whale oil with sublime descriptions of the women’s psychic abilities (Evangeline sees others’ recent memories as 'fresh and soft as paint on a canvas not yet dried'). This is beautiful." - Publishers Weekly, starred review
"Tara Karr Roberts breathes new life into a classic tale with a radiant cast of women at the helm. Wholly absorbing and beautifully written, Wild and Distant Seas is sure to someday be a classic in its own right." - Ruth Emmie Lang, author of Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance and The Wilderwomen
"A lyrical and beautiful work of historical fiction.… Charming and atmospheric, Wild and Distant Seas celebrates the complexities of womanhood through the ages and poses questions about memory, family identity, one’s legacy, and the nature and power of free will. What stories do we inherit and how much can we alter the narrative of our lives and of those of our loved ones? And when is it time to let go? At its heart, this is a story of loss, redemption, tenacity, and hope." - Julie Gerstenblatt, author of Daughters of Nantucket
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 29 members
What a lush and wonderful tale. Some of my favorite titles are familiar stories with a change in perspective. This one did not disappoint! Would make a perfect book club discussion too!
This was a slightly different story to the usual fare. As we meet the women in each generation, and the difficulties they encounter, we travel to different places and times. I did feel that this felt like reading a short story, but as the book progressed, it all fell into place. Themes of motherhood, friendship, missing fathers and longing all come out in this book. I enjoyed the writing style and the prose about the whales was beautiful.
I really enjoyed reading Wild and Distant Seas. It’s a generational story told from the perspectives of each woman, from mother to daughter to granddaughter. The story is loosely related to the tale of Moby Dick in that some characters from it are included, but this book more focuses on the love and loss between generations of women in this family. Each woman has a special power of perception, which added a bit of magical realism. My big takeaway from this story was that it left me thinking about how much of a role both holding on to someone and letting them go plays within familial relationships.
'I wanted to believe I had changed the story...Yet I came to see I had wrought something far more fragile, an illusion etched on a pane of glass'.
Evangeline is gifted with the power to re-shape others' memories, 'I could suggest to someone that a recent moment was not quite as they remembered it'. When Evangeline's husband dies, she increasingly relies on this ability in order to maintain the facade of her life despite her husband's premature departure. However, as with all lives based upon a fragile web of deceit, increasingly, her safety feels fleeting and her loneliness more permanent. However, a brief encounter with Ishmael, before he sets sail on his infamous voyage, forever changes Evangeline's life and that of future generations.
'Wild and Distant Seas' is a story created from one of the minor characters in 'Moby Dick', Evangeline Hussey, who ran the 'Try Pots Inn' and was known for her chowder. Evangeline, her daughter Rachel, granddaughter Mara, and great-granddaughter Antonia all possess varying powers of the mind which are used in their personal quests for Ishmael. It becomes clear that Ishmael represents the search for belonging and meaning rather than a literal pursuit. As the story comes full circle, there's a realisation that interfering and changing fates, in order to get what you want, does not in fact get you anywhere you need to be, 'To live an illusion was to live in fear...'.
You’ll enjoy this if you appreciate literary fiction, mixed with magical realism which gives an ethereal flare to the story.