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THE WATERY PART OF THE WORLD by Michael Parker Kirkus Star


by Michael Parker

Pub Date: April 26th, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-56512-682-4
Publisher: Algonquin

The outer banks of North Carolina is the setting for two darkly linked tales spanning 150 years, both inspired by real-life events: the disappearance of disgraced former vice president Aaron Burr's daughter after her ship is battered by a storm off the Carolina coast—and possibly taken over by pirates—and the evacuation of a tiny island by its last three townspeople, including two elderly female descendents of Theodosia Burr Alston.

Theo, as she is known, is on her way to New York in 1813 to visit her father, whom she is determined to clear of treason charges, when fate intervenes. In Parker's visionary, feverish telling, she washes up on a beach where a hermit called Old Whaley nurses her to health, builds her a shelter and ultimately becomes her partner. Many decades later, in the 1970s, her great-great-great-great grandchildren, Maggie and Whaley, are looked after by Woodrow Thornton, a black man who lost his wife to Hurricane Wilma. Out of his commitment to the women, and out of guilt for leaving his beloved Sarah on the island the day of the storm while he did business on the mainland, he has refused to abandon the hurricane zone like so many others. The mainland has long been cursed for Maggie, whose obsession with a younger man who abandoned her led her into madness when she pursued him. The long shadow of slavery adds haunting resonance to this powerful, lyrically penetrating novel, the title of which has as much to do with the liquidity of history, identity and storytelling as it does with oceans and storms. Parker invokes magic as well as mystery in exploring the ways the past not only haunts the present but in some ways anticipates it. Like Faulkner and O'Connor, Parker creates a place of beauty and complexity which, in the end, one is reluctant to leave.

A vividly imagined historical tale of isolated lives.