Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The North Water | Lefsetz Letter

The North Water: A Novel

Read this book.

You won’t know half the words, you’ll sometimes keep reading even though you didn’t quite understand what just happened, but you’ll be riveted nonetheless, I couldn’t wait to get back into my room in T.O. to dive into it, and I had trouble turning out the light, it’s that kind of book.

The kind on paper you won’t be interested in. A nineteenth century whaling story. But in so many ways contemporary. Yet antiquated. I remember in Tahiti hearing the story of the Bounty, and the professor saying there was no way the islanders wanted to be with the sailors, because the mariners hadn’t taken a shower in months, wore the same clothes, this was an era before hygiene was prominent.

So you might be a tad grossed out, but that’s kind of the appeal.

So what is “The North Water”?

On one hand, it’s the story of sailing into icy waters long before electronic navigation, when you were fighting the elements for very little pay, assuming you’re a crew member.

And the protagonist is a surgeon with a backstory.

And if it were just about the adventure, that’d be enough.

But as you continue to read, you realize it’s a thriller.

Now this book came out two years ago. I passed it by until I got an e-mail from an agent telling me he was strangely addicted. And then I read a story in the “Times” talking about the phenomenon.

You see the thing with books is you have to read them. And not that many people do. So it can take a long time for them to percolate in the marketplace, especially if they’re not typical, heavily-promoted genre books.

This is what reading is supposed to be. An entry into a world where you’re disconnected from everyday life and intrigued by what you’re encountering.

I’m not gonna give you any more plot, because first and foremost I read for plot, and if someone gives it to me in advance, why bother?

And I won’t guarantee all of you will like this.

And it takes a while for them to get on the ship.

But if you stick with it, you’ll enjoy the journey.

P.S. Now I’m in the midst of Curtis Sittenfeld’s “You Think It, I’ll Say It,” and I read the title story on my way back from Toronto and I can’t stop thinking about it. The book is a collection of short stories, which is frequently an ungratifying format, but Sittenfeld’s writing cuts like butter and there’s so much truth and humanity in the stories you won’t want them to end. This is the kind of writing that makes me feel connected, that someone understands me, the kind that made me want to be a writer.


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