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 Yet another rich, rewarding novel from Britain's acclaimed Crace (Arcadia, 1992, etc.), this set in an 1830s English coastal town where an early winter storm brings unexpected visitors and, for some, unsettling complications. The people of Wherrytown wake up to find a Yankee ship, the Belle of Wilmington, mastless and stuck in the sand outside their harbor. At the same time, the coastal steamer on its regular run has brought to town Aymer Smith, a London soap-maker whose liberal views and pedantic manner soon put off everyone he meets. He's come in person to inform area soda-ash suppliers, and his firm's agent, that their services are no longer needed; but when the American crewcomplete with the captain's injured black slavecome to the inn where Aymer's also lodging, he awakens to a new sense of purpose. He sets the African free, and, flushed with thoughts of the blushing bride whom the inn's overcrowding has forced to share his room (with her husband), thinks to end his long bachelorhood by marrying the teenaged daughter of one of his ash suppliers. Aymer's humane gestures are not welcome, however, as the slave's owner assaults him, and his intended quickly makes clear her preference for a Yankee sailor, planning to go off with him when the Belle is seaworthy. Floated off the sand and ready after a week's frantic repair, the ship sails with her rowdy crew, the sailor's girl, the newlyweds as emigrants to Canada, and even the ship's dog, which had adopted Aymer and become his only friend. A last visit for consolation to the girl's mother, now alone, results instead in the loss of his virginity, leaving him a changed man when he returns to the city. Human nature in all its tangled glory is quietly but powerfully evoked, along with a tangy, lasting impression of the intricate life of those who dwell between land and sea.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-374-26379-5
Page count: 277pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 1995


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