“…there’s magic in the sea, magic on Loosewood Island. The problem is that some of the magic is like Brumfitt’s mermaid: sharp with teeth.”
It was magic I was looking for in Alexi Zentner’s novel The Lobster Kings – a story about the Kings’ family who have made their home on an island between Canada and Maine, and who have fished the sea and suffered a curse (every firstborn son is destined to die at sea). Cordelia is the oldest daughter of Woody Kings and she has grown up knowing she belonged on the water. With her father’s failing health, she becomes the new leader of her community which includes fending off the meth dealers from the mainland.
I read to page 144 in this 344 page novel before setting it aside. Initially I enjoyed the narrative, sifting through the history of the family and watching Cordelia assert herself with her father who does not see a woman taking over the helm. But then the story became a little unrealistic to me (and not in a good way).
When Cordelia and several of the men from the town decide to drive out a meth head named Eddie Glouster, the novel goes from captivating fiction to a suspension of reality. Cordelia and her gang not only threaten Eddie and his cohorts, they proceed to burn down his house…and the only consequence is that Eddie flees the island (apparently scared of what might happen next). No cops? No arrests for arson? I think the author felt that he had adequately established Cordelia as a heroine so that the reader would cheer her on during this vigilante escapade. For me, the scene felt contrived and so completely unrealistic, that I decided to stop reading. It also made me lose a great deal of respect for Cordelia who I wanted to like.
*END OF SPOILERS
This is normally the type of book I would relish, a generational saga with a strong female character, a bit of magic in a small town, curses and high drama. Instead, I felt disappointed in a book that had much promise, but failed to deliver.
I should also warn animal lovers – there is a scene early on where a dog is killed – for no reason whatsoever. I almost stopped reading at that point, but persevered hoping that this was just a blip in an otherwise worthwhile read.
The Lobster Kings has gotten some rave print reviews from from sources like The Washington Post, as well as kudos from some big name authors like Stewart O’Nan, Ben Fountain and Tea Obreht…so although it did not resonate with me, you might still like to give it a try.
*FTC Disclosure: I received this book from Library Things Early Reviewer Program.