You know that feeling when you open a new book and know right away you’re going to love it? And then you’re faced with the difficult decision to either sip or swallow in one long gulp? Such is The Geography of Water by Mary Emerick.
The opening lines immediately sucked me in by showing two characters with questions that I had to read further to answer. The beginning did just what a beginning should do – hook the reader and make you want to turn a page.
‘When my father left on his hunting trips, my mother and I would come out of our hiding places. We would scamper like mice through the empty lodge, throwing open the windows to erase the smell of men. We would fill up the damp air with our own voices, losing little pieces of our hearts with doomed Janis Joplin, the volume turned up past ten. We would surrender like drowning to afternoon sleep in beds that were not our own. We would eat, finally, sitting down like normal people, peaches sliding down our throats, each swallow almost too sweet to bear. We would stretch ourselves big in a world that usually forced us to be small.’
The book is set along the southern coast of Alaska in a bay called Never Summer, and the author brings the setting so alive that the rain, ocean, trees, the sense of place, become a character as vital to the story as the living beings. I’ve only found one other author, Ellie Griffiths, who so brought a place alive for me.
There’s a bit of mystery in the book, but don’t limit it by labeling it a mystery. You can read the book jacket to find out what it’s about and this isn’t a review that gives away the whole plot. Basically there is a young girl on the cusp of woman, in a wild and unforgiving land with an abusive father and a mother who weaves stories as if from the air they breathe.
What made the book hold me was the lyrical writing, the sense of place as I’ve mentioned, the water that so influences everything, from ocean to rain, from streams to mist, from fog to the moisture breathed out by trees in their ancient self-contained eco-systems.
The author also pays close attention to detail. For example, near the beginning she talks about cormorants and how the birds dive deep in the ocean then must wait to dry off before they can dive again. You read it as description and nothing more until later in the book when one sentence draws a powerful parallel to Winnie (the young girl) and where she is.
All of the characters are strongly developed, believable, and flawed. Not all questions will be answered, but life isn’t so neatly tied up either.
Mary Emerick does an amazing job putting words together, creating this song of place.
‘We looked out toward the ocean. Whitecaps marched in a solid line, rollers fighting the flood time. Out there it was what we called a confused sea, waves colliding from all four directions. I knew what that felt like because I felt it too, love and hate mixed up in a ball, rolling around loose inside my skin.’
Here she is speaking of two old men, Isaiah and Birdman, Vietnam vets who found safe harbor in Alaska, and who give her safe harbor. ‘They blended into the country in a way my father never had. For the first time I realized that I could slip inside the skin of a place without tearing it open.’
Wonderful book and now I wish I’d sipped instead of swallowing whole, in one rainy-afternoon sitting.