Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Theodosia, Really

When I read the NYT review of A Watery Part of the World by Michael Parker, I was curious, but cautious.  My family traveled to North Carolina's Outer Banks a couple of years ago, and really loved it, so I was interested in a book set there.  I also have really liked some books of historical fiction that I've read  that deal with obscure historical figures, like Carter Beats the Devil by Glen David Gold.  However, the review is really not all that great, and I generally trust The Times.

A Watery Part of the World is the story of Theodosia Burr, intermixed with the story of two of her great, great, great granddaughters, Miss Whaley and Miss Maggie.  Theodosia Burr is a really interesting historical figure who I had never heard of before reading this book.  Apparently (in real life) she was the daughter of Aaron Burr (former US Vice President, better known for his role in a duel with Alexander Hamilton), and was married to a Governor of South Carolina, Joseph Alston.  On December 31, 1812, Theodosia was on a schooner which is believed to have sank near Cape Hatteras.  No one from that ship was ever heard from again.

Parker takes Theodosia's real life story as a starting off point, and imagines what could have happened if she had lived, but been trapped on a part of what we now call The Outer Banks.  This reminded me of I was Amelia Earhart by Jane Mendelsohn, which took the known facts of Amelia Earhart's disappearance, and imagined how she and her navigator may have lived on a deserted island.

Through Miss Whaley and Miss Maggie, and their neighbor, Woodrow, Parker shows how Theodosia's descendants, and the descendant of the slave who her husband freed, may have made lives for themselves, up through the late twentieth century.  These three are living on a barrier island, and over time, they have become its only inhabitants.  This island regresses rather than progresses, as it loses power, bringing the residents back in time to an era before electricity was available.

I really liked this book, despite some pretty clear flaws.  There were times when I couldn't tell if I was in a flash back or not, and times when I couldn't tell whether a character was imagining or reporting what she really saw, despite multiple re-readings.  Early in the story, there are several references to  1970, implying that that is when Miss Whaley, Miss Maggie and Woodrow are living, but toward the end of the book, Woodrow references a time in the distant past, when he went back to the mainland to live in the 1960s.  I couldn't get a good grasp on when these islanders were supposed to be living, so I really couldn't gauge how likely it would be that an island in such a (now) popular area would fall to desertion.

I will probably recommend this to friends who are looking for a good quick read, especially if they are planning a visit to OBX.

This is another book down for the Support Your Library Challenge, leaving me with 19 to go.  This is also the first book that I checked out from my library on my Kindle.  Easy Breezy.  I will definitely do that again.

Next up:  Lulu in Marrakesh by Diane Johnson

Still Listening to:  Helen of Troy by Margaret George

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