cover image The Story of Land and Sea

The Story of Land and Sea

Katy Simpson Smith. Harper, $26.99 (256p) ISBN 978-0-06-233594-4

A bereaved father and his son-in-law struggle to understand the tragedies that have befallen them in Smith’s debut novel, which is set among the marshes of coastal North Carolina during the uncertain time of the American Revolution. John, a widowed soldier, is perplexed by the faith of others in a God who takes so much and gives so little. When his beloved daughter, Tabitha, contracts yellow fever, he stows her away with him on a schooner bound for Bermuda in a desperate attempt to curb the ravages of the disease. Tabitha’s grandfather, Asa, owner of a small plantation called Long Ridge, grieves over the loss of his granddaughter. He also mourns her mother, his only daughter Helen, whom John stole away for a happy interlude of love and freedom on the high seas before her untimely death in childbirth. Helen’s slave companion, Moll, like Asa, feels left behind, married off to another slave she did not know. Her only consolation is her feisty first-born son Davy, although she has other children, all girls. When John decides to strike out over land on a journey westward, Moll’s heart is irrevocably shattered. Smith’s soulful language of loss is almost biblical, and the descriptions of her characters’ sorrows are poetic and moving. (Aug.)