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Although this novel focuses on a small part of the United States, its indictment of the preference for failing alone rather than profiting together has a much wider resonance. The description of self-destructive environmental policies and endemic emotional abuse are similarly insightful.
This book tells the collapse of the traditional Chesapeake fishing industry through the eyes of Gail Kingsley. Opening at the point the company she runs with her husband is on the verge of bankruptcy it shifts between the modern-day and her childhood on a farm.
Gerard’s description of both the life and terrain of Chesapeake Bay and agribusiness is excellent, balancing sufficient information with a character-focused style. Even the complex issues of international economics and marine science are explained without feeling either simplified or dropped into the narrative.
Gail is similarly skilfully created, creating an entirely plausible picture of a person torn between the loyalty to family and understanding that family is flawed. The combination of an honest inner monologue and appropriate flashbacks, provide ample evidence that, while her actions are not always objectively ideal they are a coherent response to her past.
This coherency of personality is also evident in the supporting characters. While their actions might be unexpected, the reader is not surprised that they have done them.
Unfortunately, Gerard has turned this ability to create realistic characters toward characters of little ethical resonance. While some characters failure to support their fellows comes from egoism and others from apathy, there are no characters who represent humanity at its best. Even those who pursue commendable environmental or social goals are portrayed as doing it at least in part for self-aggrandisement.
This lack of empathetic characters is particularly noticeable in the descriptions of chronic emotional abuse by both Gail’s parents and the Kingsleys. Although this placement of social position and money above the wellbeing of children does not extend to physical abuse, the reader might wonder whether this is more because injuries could damage a parent’s image than from any vestigial love.
As the story unfolds Gerard reveals more of the abusers backgrounds and motivations, giving the reader some evidence they might be the product of similar parental and social failure themselves. However, being able to understand their actions and being interested in them are different matters.
I admired the technical skill and research displayed in this novel; however, I did not enjoy it. I recommend it to readers seeking a perspective on environmental issues around fishing or an example of writing strong negative characters.