Tag Archives: Stiltsville

SEA CREATURES by Susanna Daniel

Sea Creatures by Susanna Daniel is one of those books that makes you feel lonely while reading it. I don’t mean that in a bad way; it’s just that there is a lot of sadness and isolation in this book that permeates even the experience of reading it.

Sea Creatures by Susanna Daniel
Sea Creatures takes place in Miami, like Daniel’s earlier novel Stiltsville (reviewed here). Georgia and Graham Quillian have moved to Miami from their home in Chicago, along with their three year-old son, Frankie. The family has undergone a lot of stress: Frankie has stopped speaking altogether, and Graham, a parasomniac, was forced to leave Chicago because of some incidents that occurred at night while he was sleepwalking. His extreme sleep issues have put a tremendous strain on the family, but they’ve decided to start over fresh living on an houseboat on a canal outside Georgia’s father and stepmother’s house.

The first half of the book establishes Georgia and Graham in their new home, and explores their past as well as Frankie’s selective mutism, which Georgia has learned to accommodate. As she gets to the heart of why Frankie no longer communicates verbally, Graham becomes increasingly resentful of her enabling Frankie and, as he sees it, continually choosing Frankie over him. Their marriage becomes more and more distant, to the point where he takes a months-long job on a ship studying hurricanes, and Georgia starts working for an older man with his own troubled past with whom she develops a complicated relationship.

Ultimately, Sea Creatures is about parenthood –  sacrifices we make to keep our kids safe and mistakes in judgment that sometimes have ramifications far beyond what we feared. There is a lot else going on in Sea Creatures: a lot of sadness and death, marriages and divorce, and the hugely important roles played by Miami and its distinctive weather and neighborhoods and Graham’s sleep disorder. It’s a sad book, for sure, but it’s also rich and thought-provoking. I found it lonely, I think, because so much of it takes place in Georgia’s mind. She kept so many of her feelings to herself, and bore the burden of many difficult things going on around her. She was frustrating at times – for someone who was so in touch with her son and his needs, she could be oddly lax about things like vaccines and the need for pre-school – and made some choices that were clearly not well-founded. But of course, that’s what propelled the story and made Sea Creatures the engrossing story that it is.

I listened to the audio version of Sea Creatures, which was narrated by the excellent Karen White. (White is a friend of EDIWTB – read her Q&A here.) Karen’s voice matched the tone of the book perfectly – urgent, yet emotionally restrained at the same time (like Georgia). This was a great audiobook. It moved along swiftly and effectively conveyed the growing tension throughout the book. White also did a nice job with some of the smaller characters, creating convincing accents for each and giving them an impact that outmatched the number of pages that they inhabited.

So, if you’re looking for a melancholy, moody read that will also make you want to move to Florida and live on the water (something I’ve never been interested in doing before), give Sea Creatures a try. Just be prepared to feel a little lonely. Incidentally, I think Sea Creatures would make an excellent book club choice – lots to discuss here.

STILTSVILLE by Susanna Daniel

Stiltsville The December EDIWTB book club pick was Stiltsville, by Susanna Daniel.

Stiltsville is the chronicle of a marriage – that of Frances and Dennis, a couple who meets in their mid-20s in Miami. Frances is visiting Miami for the weekend, while Dennis is a Floridian with a house in Stiltsville, a community of houses on stilts in Biscayne Bay, outside Miami. Dennis and Frances end up marrying and making a life for themselves in Miami.  Stiltsville isn't an exhaustive diary of their marriage, but is more a series of vignettes and episodes. Frances and Dennis together face a number of challenges – Dennis' professional dissatisfaction, boom and bust times, a hurricane that destroys their stilt house, their daughter's surprise engagement.

Frances is a quiet person - a devoted wife, mother, and friend, but not particularly emotive. I liked her understatement and the slow teasing out of her inner narrative. I didn't mind the lack of a strong plot or the uneven passage of time. Reading Stiltsville is like looking through someone's photo album (back in the day before we chronicled every day on digital cameras) and hearing the backstory behind the pages.

Daniel also made me understand the appeal of Miami. She beautifully conveyed the heat, the lushness, and the dramatic storms that are so characteristic of that city, and the role that Miami played in Frances' life.

Overall, I quite enjoyed this book. It fit the bill for me – introspective domestic fiction with an interesting setting. I've read a lot of very positive reviews, as well as some that felt that the book was too slow or dull. I didn't find it slow or dull – to me it was a very satisfying read.

Thank you very much to Harper for providing books for EDIWTB readers! And now, let's hear from those readers… What did you think of Stiltsville?