STARTING AT SEA LEVEL by Terry L. Noble

STARTING AT SEA LEVEL

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A young man recounts his awkward passage from childhood to maturity on the banks of the Chesapeake Bay.

The author recalls the pastimes and rites of passage from his childhood with startling clarity, painting an evocative portrait of the oyster bays and rural ways of Somerset County, Md., in the late 1950s. Narrated in the first person from his point of view as a boy, the author’s spare prose and wistful remembrance of his youthful days recalls the contemplative fiction of Pat Conroy or Norman Maclean’s lyrical novella A River Runs Through It. The most distinct character is the author’s father, Captain Thomas Noble, who balances out his dutiful life lessons with a miserable and risky job with the Maryland Tidewater Fisheries Commission. It’s the dying days of the anarchic Oyster Wars of Chesapeake Bay, and conflicts between “Tongers,” who use a traditional rake to harvest the oysters, and the new-fangled “Dredgers” are coming to a head–boat chases and armed showdowns aren’t uncommon among the desperate fishermen. After Terry’s father is shot, the family turns its attentions to more agrarian pursuits, and the writing occasionally gets bogged down in the minutia of pig and chicken farming. But the odd denizens of the fishing village of Oriole–ranging from rough-hewn loggers and peculiar youths to a roguish World War II vet named Beauchamp Bloodsworth–punctuate the narrative with flair. More often, the boy’s vibrant memories–a flight in a WWII biplane, the aftermath of Hurricane Hazel, the terrible consequences of a hunting accident, the mischievous antics of a trouble-prone adolescent–are depicted with a light, honest tone that elevate the anecdotes above their pedestrian roots. When a brash young vet named Leroy Johnson inspires the young man to pursue a career as a veterinarian, his destiny becomes clear, and he’s finally able to step from his father’s shadow and appreciate his challenging path to adulthood.

A graceful observation of life’s rituals in a small place, cast in the old-fashioned memories of bygone days.

Program: Kirkus Indie
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