The Odd Sea won the Hackney Literary Award for a first novel. I mention this for two reasons: one, to let you know that other people more important than me thought highly of it; and two, because it makes me think of hack writers, which amuses me. Congratulations, you’re King of the Hacks!*
The book is about the years following the disappearance of the narrator’s older brother and the efforts to find out what happened to him and rescue him from his Schrodinger's Cat status. It explores the effects of the disappearance on, well, mainly the narrator since he’s the one telling the story and all, but also the family members as individuals and a unit, the brother’s girlfriend, and the brother’s teacher. Reiken uses clear, spare language, and does not turn the story into a melodrama, into which it easily could’ve spiraled in another author’s hands. It actually had somewhat of the opposite problem. Since emotions were always presented in such a straightforward manner, I always felt a level of detachment from the story and the characters. I also had some issues with the narrator's voice. He often seemed to be too adult, or flat-out weird. (Describing his sister as bosomy? At thirteen? Awwwwkward.).
For a book with the constant threat of death, torture, and child molestation hanging over it, it was surprisingly pleasant. Like walking through a forest on a sunny day and happening upon a dead moose - you’re just so relaxed that you can acknowledge death’s existence without having your mood be affected by it. (I don’t think moose actually live in forests, but you get the point.) The comparison became even more fitting when I saw that Reiken is a nature writer. There are a lot of descriptions of leaves, and forests, and the sky, and I usually wouldn’t care much for that, but everything was just too darn pleasant for me to get bored or upset. He’s also a reporter, which could help explain the detachment.
There was one part, though, where I got seriously stirred up. A speech the father makes at his timber frame raising got me choked up a little. I was over it by the time he made a similar speech again at the end of the book.
I can see how someone who is drawn to serious explorations like this would enjoy it, and I can see why it would get some first-time-novel praise. It doesn’t just show promise, it delivers on some of it already. This isn’t the type of thing to which I’m drawn, though, so I won’t be holding my breath for his next novel.
Time for another round of Quote That's Better Isolated And Dirty: On one full-moon night we sat out watching beavers until dawn... The beavers seemed not to mind our presence, yet for some reason this made me feel invisible, and afraid.
*That’s not really what the award means. I think.
I Am Still Alive. Basically.
3 days ago