Michael Parker’s vast and involving novel about pirates and slaves, treason and treasures, madness and devotion, takes place on a tiny island battered by storms and cut off from the world. Inspired by two little-known moments in history, it begins in 1813, when Theodosia Burr, en route to New York by ship to meet her father, Aaron Burr, disappears off the coast of North Carolina. It ends a hundred and fifty years later, when the last three inhabitants of a remote island—two elderly white women and the black man who takes care of them—are forced to leave their beloved spot of land. Parker tells an enduring story about what we’ll sacrifice for love, and what we won’t.
I don’t get to read many adult books, but there are few that Algonquin publishes that I’m unwilling to pick up. I’m so glad I had the chance to read an early copy of THE WATERY PART OF THE WORLD, the latest from Michael Parker. Not only is it one of the most beautiful novels I’ve read recently, but the story grabs you from page one, sucks you in, and doesn’t let go.Parker based THE WATERY PART OF THE WORLD on two known facts:1. The daughter of Aaron Burr, vice president to Thomas Jefferson, went missing in 1813 while traveling to New York from South Carolina. Some believe she was kidnapped by pirates and was spared to live out her days on an island off the Carolina coast.2. In 1970 the last villagers from an island off the coast of North Carolina, an elderly black man and two elderly white women, left the island for the mainland.The world he has built around these facts is astounding. Traveling back and forth through the years to tell the stories not only of Theodosia Burr Alston (the vice president’s daughter) and those who believe to be her descendents, the Whaley sisters, the aforementioned elderly black man, Woodrow Thornton, and the various relationships and romances that are intertwined throughout time on these islands. Theodosia, spared only because the pirate Daniels is superstitious and believes her to be touched by God, has begun to wonder if maybe she is a lunatic, having gone from her high society life as the governor’s wife and the vice president’s daughter (though her father has been exiled, she still believes him to be an honorable man and has the papers to prove it, if only she can retrieve them from Daniels). She has only survived her life on this island due to the kindness of strangers, particularly Whaley, a strange man who lives in a lean-to on the beach.Meanwhile the Whaley sisters, two spinsters, are the last ones, save for Thornton, still residing on Yaupon Island. All three live with the pain of loss, watching the lives they’ve built on the island seem to disappear before them. For some reason, they’ve all hung on — be it for fear of the mainland or love of the island. But the incident that made them three, rather than four, has rendered the group — which always seemed to be connected by a very fragile thread — completely shattered, perhaps beyond repair. And it is in this that we can see the ghost of the island’s past, that we see nature and human nature collide.I can’t recommend this book enough — readers who enjoy historical fiction with a bit of quirk will surely be enticed. And anyone looking for beautiful language simply can’t miss THE WATERY PART OF THE WORLD. While sad, there is a spark of hope that runs through the novel — the resiliance of the human animal, the spirit of change. Don’t miss this one, guys.read more
A gorgeously written novel, set in two time periods, about life on a near-abandoned barrier island. It addresses relationships between men and women, black and white, and forgotten people and the mainstream. Read it if you liked Galore or Last Days of Dogtown.read more
In the last days of 1812 Theodosia Burr Alston, daughter of former Vice President Aaron Burr and wife of South Carolina Governor Joseph Alston, boarded a schooner bound for New York and was never heard from again. In the early 1970’s, two elderly women, the last remaining residents of Portsmouth Village, a small town on a barrier island off the coast of North Carolina, reluctantly moved from their island home to the mainland, leaving behind a ghost town.Michael Parker has taken these two facts, Theodosia’s disappearance and the desertion of a once thriving village, and woven a story so engrossing and believable that it’s hard to image it isn’t true.When her schooner is attacked by pirates and everyone on board has been killed, Theodosia is spared by a momentary act of feigning insanity. Believing that she has been touched by God, the brutal pirate is too superstitious to take her life and instead deposits her on a barrier island to live out her days as a captive under his cautious protection. Taken in by another exile, Theodosia learns that all of her education is of no use on this island where the way of life is a hardscrabble existence and any hope of her survival depends on the whim of a vicious pirate and her ability to make him believe she is thoroughly mad.More than a century and a half later and a few islands away, the last two remaining descendants of Theodosia make up two thirds of the population of Yaopon Island, a tiny barrier island battered into obscurity by the years of hurricanes and the changing world around it. The elderly sisters, Maggie and Whaley, are dependent on the only other resident of the island for much of their food and information. Woodrow Thornton, an elderly black man descended from the freed slave who worked for Theodosia is torn between resenting the sisters and caring for them at the same time. The loss of his wife Sarah during a hurricane and whatever hand the sisters might have had in her fate has brought Woodrow to a crossroads in his life.“The Watery Part of the World” is a beautifully written, richly imagined tale that weaves together the lives and circumstances of inhabitants of the long distant past with the present day lives of their descendants. It is a story of relationships and how our past shapes our present and what happens when you never allow change into your life. Parker’s prose is gorgeous, lush and descriptive and full of evocative turns of phrases. “The Watery Part of the World” is a novel to be enjoyed slowly, savoring the narrative as it spins its tale from the past to the present and back again.read more
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