The Sea Is a Thief
Parmalee’s touching romance is set during the U.S. Civil War, when conflicting loyalties divided families, towns, and states. In a particularly conspicuous rift, the tiny coastal island of Chincoteague, dependent on commerce with the North (duck and oysters), voted to remain with the Union when Virginia seceded. Following an abortive military skirmish, the U.S. dispatched the gunboat Louisiana to protect local interests.
In 1861, while the Louisiana remains in coastal waters that are, temporarily, uncontested, Sam Dreher, a young sailor/carpenter from Pennsylvania, is set to work on shore. When Sam meets and falls in love with Anna Daisey, trouble follows. Despised by Anna’s rebel brother, betrayed by a jealous rival, Sam is separated from Anna in a storm and, inevitably, reclaimed by the U.S. Navy for the duration of the war.
Anna is convinced Sam will return. No one survives the war unchanged, however, and Anna is a talented artist. Will her new life be enough without Sam? Four years of war teaches Sam to fight—does it also teach him to hate? Does the sea ever return what it steals?
The author is better at describing military action than forbidden love, but he generates enough interest in Anna and Sam to make us care what happens to them. He also sheds light on a little-known (outside of Virginia) episode in which oysters may have affected the course of history. The Sea is a Thief is recommended for its unbiased examination of the personal costs of war.