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Likely Stories -- Sea of Tranquility by Hilary St. John Mandel

Emily St. John Mandel has written a strange and baffling novel spread over millenia.

I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry.

Emily St. John Mandel’s five previous novels include The Glass Hotel and Station Eleven, which was a finalist for the National Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. She lives in New York City with her husband and daughter. As The New Yorker has said, her writings are gifts of realism. Her newest book is Sea of Tranquility.

“Edwin St. John St. Andrew, eighteen years old, hauling the weight of his double-sainted name, across the Atlantic by steamship, eyes narrowed against the wind on the upper deck: he holds the railing with gloved hands, impatient for a glimpse of the unknown, trying to discern something—anything!—beyond sea and sky, but all he sees are shades of endless gray. He is on his way to a different world. He is more or less at the halfway point between England and Canada. I have been sent into exile, he tells himself, and he knows he’s being melodramatic, but nonetheless there’s a ring of truth to it. […] There are very few professions that a gentleman can take up, and none of them are of interest to Edwin. The family estate is destined to go to his oldest brother, Gilbert, so he stands to inherit nothing” (4-3).

To continue, “In Halifax he finds lodging by the port, a boarding house where he’s able to secure a corner room on the second floor, overlooking the harbor. He wakes that first morning to a wonderfully lively scene outside his window. A large merchant ship has arrived, and he’s close enough to hear the jovial curses of the men unloading barrels and sacks and crates. He spends much of that first day gazing out the window, like a cat. He planned to go west immediately, but it’s so easy to linger in Halifax, where he falls prey to personal weakness he’s been aware of all his life: Edwin is capable of action but prone to inertia. This could be a life, he finds himself thinking. It could be as simple as this. No family, no job, just a few simple pleasures and clean sheets to fall into at the end of the day, a regular allowance from home. A life of solitude could be a very pleasing thing” (5-7).

The story continues, “What if one wanted to disappear into wilderness instead? A strange thought on a northbound boat a week later, steaming up the broken coast of the west side of Vancouver Island. A landscape of sharp beaches and forests, mountains rising up behind. Then all at once the broken rocks subsided into a white-sand beach, the longest Edwin had ever seen. ” (21-22).

Edwin is the first important character in this story. There are a number of individuals who will appear as the story unwinds. Emily St. John Mandel’s Sea of Tranquility is a mysterious and amazing story. 10 Stars!

Likely Stories is a production of KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and happing reading!