Friday, February 27, 2009

Whaling, paranormal, history, mystery and more

The Boundless Deep, a fiction novel by Kate Brallier

Why I Picked Up This Book:
In my work-in-progress novel, I ask my readers to believe that the main character, Anne-Marie Gessner, can not only travel back in time to the French Revolution, but also experience the world as if she was inside the head of her distant relative. Brallier's protagonist experiences something similiar. The main character, Liza, has vivid dreams of whaling, yet she's never even been to the sea. I picked up this book to see how Brallier made the paranormal believable, as well as how she manuevered between past and present.

When Liza and her best-friend/roommate Jane summer in Nantucket, Liza's visions of the past and of whaling become even more real. It doesn't help matters that she's living in Jane's Aunt Kitty's home - which was once home to Obadiah Young, whose life, Liza begins to think, she's witnessing when she "experiences" the past.

Liza begins to ask "why me?" even as she tries to retain some sense of normalcy over her life. She begins dating Adam, the hunky young curator at the Nantucket Historical Association, even while attempting to ignore her burgeoning feelings for Lucian, Aunt Kitty's nephew. Yet, the the visions/experiences grow more intense in every way possible. - especially once she starts having vivid, sexual dreams about being with Obadiah. (Warning to readers: these sexual dreams read like erotica). Through her visions, Liza also learns that Obadiah allegedly killed his wife, Lucy, before leaving on his ship and disappearing forever.

The characters, especially Liza who wants to understand why she's having these "visions", seem to develop naturally as their relationships continually evolve and progress. Jane is an energetic sprite; Lucian is characterized as hard and restrained but passionate; and Liza is unsure of herself, even of her own beauty. As for the historical characters, they are vividly drawn as well, albeit somewhat murkily; after all, Liza is sorting out the past, figuring out their relationships, trying to find out if it's Obadiah's life she's really experiencing, and attempting to solve the hundred-year-old mystery surrounding the death of Obadiah's wife.

It is actually one of the characters of the present - Adam - who seems the most problematic, as if he doesn't have much of a personality nor a place in Liza's new family, Jane and her relatives. As the novel progresses, though, it seems that effect was quite intended.

The character development comes to a crashing halt with the novel's "twist," which a careful reader will pick up on well before it occurs. It doesn't help matters that the readers will know how the story will end, even if Liza doesn't, simply because all the other characters know as well.

Despite the predictable ending, the novel is an intriguing read that carefully - and quite successfully - blends the past with the present, whether through dreams or Liza witnessing the street and harbor morph before her eyes. Liza has a mystery to solve - why is she witnessing the past? Did Obadiah really kill Lucy? I didn't expect to enjoy a novel about "whaling," but I learned a ton and read a good story while I was at it, despite the less-than-perfect "twist."

The Takeaway
I'm struggling with whether dreams are the right way for Anne-Marie to "experience" her distant relative's past, but Brallier uses dreams so often and so vividly that it worked quite well. Dreams are definitely a good way of allowing characters to access the past, but I think other things, like visions while walking down the street, also work well, as Brallier demonstrated throughout.

I also found it intriguing that Liza learned how to harness her knowledge of the past, and force her memory to recall things when she needed to. Then again, if she was able to do that, why is she unable to remember whose experiences she's having/seeing? Despite that lingering question, I'm definitely going to play around with the idea of Anne being able to recall things she didn't necessarily experience or see on her many forays into Charlotte's mind.

My one really big qualm with Liza's visions is how she didn't want to believe they were real. Halfway into the novel she is still questioning her sanity. I get that it seems to be a crazy and difficult-to-explain experience, but it was incredibly distracting in regards to the rest of the plot. As a reader, I grew frustrated and wanted her to move on. I accepted that this other reality was possible, so why couldn't she?

From the very start of writing my novel, I decided that Anne was going to question the reality of her experiences for only so long - like half a page - and then she was going to accept what was happening to her and focus on the real issues at stake in the novel. The Boundless Deep, and the way Brallier handled the issue of 'sanity' and 'normalcy,' confirms that, at least in this respect, I'm on that right track with how I want to handle Anne's paranormal experiences.


Ginger B. (Barbara) Collins said...


I have a story to tell you . . . a true story, about being in Chicago 12 years ago,driving around the north side looking for my mother's old neighborhood. I drove down Clark Street and just before the intersection at Lawrence Avenue I saw a cemetary and knew . . . I don't know how, but I knew, that my grandmother was there. She was. And so was a woman who I'd seen in dreams and would later find out was my great, great grandmother.
I spent the next several months working to connect with these lost family members. It was, and continues to be, an incredible experience. Let me know if any of this can be of use to you.

Liz S said...

Ginger, that sounds like such an amazing story! Have you ever written about it before? I would be interested to hear/read more.

In fact, my novel's main character is searching for her family's past (specifically her mother's) and I'm working on scenes with her discovering her mother's burial spot in a Parisian graveyard. How she comes to find it, I still haven't determined. Your story may be pointing me in a direction I hadn't yet considered!