Tuesday, July 30, 2013

“Time is more complex near the sea than in any other place…”—John Steinbeck, Tortilla Flat

Sea Creatures
by Susanna Daniel

I can’t say why it is, but some stories grab you right from the opening pages. That was the case with Susanna Daniel’s fantastic sophomore novel, Sea Creatures. Early in the tale, Georgia, the novel’s first person narrator relates:
“A year before, I’d been running a business that if not thriving, exactly, then still had potential. A year before, Graham still had a shot at tenure, and his sleep troubles were more or less under control. Frankie had been a well-adjusted two-and-a-half-year-old, a little slow to talk, but not yet entirely mute.”
So, already I’m curious about these changed circumstances. As Georgia’s tale begins, it’s 1992, and she and her family have left their lives in Chicago to return to her hometown of Miami. Her dad and stepmom offer refuge, and Graham has a professional opportunity at the university. Unfortunately, work requires him to be away a lot. Georgia, meanwhile, takes on a part-time job of her own. Her stepmother sets her up working as a personal assistant to an old family acquaintance referred to as “The Hermit.” In actuality, he is a reclusive artist living in isolation in a stilt house surrounded by water, in a loose community called Stiltsville. Georgia and Frankie visit several times a week, ferrying out supplies and doing odd jobs.

That’s the set-up and the cast of characters, and that’s about all I’m going to tell you. Parts of this tale move in somewhat predictable directions—not because there’s anything clichéd going on, but because there are just some truths to relationships. Still, Ms. Daniel managed to surprise me many times along the way, and kept me captivated by the tale she was telling. For a book that’s not a traditional page-turner kind of genre, I could barely put it down! The novel is both character-driven and plot-driven, and some fairly dramatic events do occur. For instance, as I began the novel, I wondered about the 1992 setting. Why? Well, there is a reason, and it concerns a historic event.

The novel’s prose is lovely, as are her observations about human nature and relationships. Ms. Daniel
has created an appealing cast of characters, likeable, well-rounded, and flawed. Another brief quote:
“The strange reverse-nostalgia itched at me every time I stepped from the boat to the stilt house dock, and it was several minutes before I could slough it off and relax. I think as much as anything else it was a weighty sense of gratitude, as well as the foreknowledge that whatever this was—this occupation, this friendship, this parallel life—it would not last forever.”
It’s not too overwhelming, but there is a foreshadowing of events to come. By the time I’d reached the novel’s end, all lingering questions had been answered, the drama was passed, and I was a deeply satisfied reader. I’m looking forward to more from Ms. Daniel, who is now firmly on my radar!


  1. Sounds good. I came across it for review but sort of left it, thinking "more of the same". But it sounds special!

  2. Hey Judith,

    It's funny you say that, because I had similar thoughts concerning her debut novel, Stiltsville. Now I'm all fired up to grab a copy!

    If this review inspires you to give Sea Creatures a second look, I sure hope you enjoy it. :-)