The Story of Land and Sea
This debut novel lays bare both the joy and the heart-wrenching ache of love gained, love lost, and love withheld. Set in a small town on the North Carolina coast and tracing the story of three generations, the book begins with ten-year-old Tabitha and her love affair with the sea, a love nurtured by stories her father, John, tells her about his days as a pirate before the onset of the American Revolution. Asa, Tabitha’s grandfather, disapproves of the storytelling, and, when she gets sick and her father takes her to sea to heal her, he is incensed.
The story then transitions to Tabitha’s mother, Helen, and her relationship with Asa, her father, and Moll, the slave girl she is given for her tenth birthday. As Helen and Moll grow up, they develop a troubled friendship that is naturally fractured when Helen defies her father by falling in love and marrying John even as Moll is forced to marry a total stranger. Ultimately, the story circles back around as John, believing that nothing remains for him on the coast after both his wife and daughter are gone, plans to head west and, in a twist of fate, buys Moll’s son—the only person she truly loves—to take with him.
It’s easy to say that a novel is about love and loss, but in The Story of Land and Sea, debut author Katy Simpson Smith has truly evoked both the pleasure of loving and the pain of losing the beloved. I was moved by Smith’s use of such elegant prose to describe the harsh realities of disease, death, and slavery, and, most of all, by Asa’s blind and unyielding attitude toward Moll, whose story left me both heartbroken and hopeful. For fans of lyrical language, this is a recommended read.