The Lobster Kings / Alexi Zentner
Toronto: Knopf, 2014.
I recently finished this novel, a great choice for a summer read. Especially around these parts -- it is inspired/influenced by King Lear (although the connections are pretty tenuous, as it goes on).
Woody Kings is the acknowledged "king" of Loosewood Island; his family has been the alpha dog since the legendary Brumfitt Kings came over from Ireland more than three hundred years ago. Brumfitt was a painter, and in his paintings he expressed the menace and the allure of the sea. It's in his art that the magical side of this story is revealed; legends of selkies and curses arise from his images, and are passed down the generations. He also has some uncanny clairvoyant moments.
But this story is situated in the present, where Woody is a long-time lobster fisherman, with the other locals listening to his decisions closely. He's also the father of three daughters, the eldest of whom is named Cordelia. (He was an amateur actor in college, so perhaps this name is not too unbelievable.) The family also contained a young son, Scotty, but his role is soon past. It's a sad moment in the story.
As the book progresses, we see Woody aging, and Cordelia -- also a lobster boat captain -- taking on his role. She faces barriers due to her gender, and to the presence of a larger neighbouring fleet who are aggressively trespassing on their fishing grounds and dealing meth. Of course, she's also having romantic troubles.
Another large element of the story is Cordelia's relationship with her two younger sisters, both very different from her. There is tension between them due to their childhood relationships as well as the direction that their lives have taken. The middle sister has married and still lives on the island, while the youngest lives on the mainland with her girlfriend.
Overall, I did find this fairly enjoyable. But the book was nearly ruined for me by the inclusion of a graphic rape scene, which I thought was unnecessarily detailed. There was too much melodrama, and petty disagreements butted up against serious drama like murder and rape, but they all seem equally disturbing to the characters.
This book reminded me of a couple of novels I've read before -- Carol Goodman's Seduction of Water (for the family issues and Irish folklore) or Hilary Scharper's Perdita (for the paintings and mystery of water) -- but I enjoyed both of those more. I felt like this novel, if written by a woman, would have been published as genre fiction, not literary -- and the cover would have had a beach with sunset and woman in filmy gown facing away from us -- if you read romantic suspense like Goodman, Barbara Michaels, Victoria Holt and so forth, you may like this one too. Just don't have huge expectations for literary grandeur, and you'll be fine.