Book Review: New Literary Fiction

The Great Offshore Grounds by Vanessa Veselka

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

From the Publisher: “A wildly original, cross-country novel that subverts a long tradition of family narratives and casts new light on the mythologies–national, individual, and collective–that drive and define us.

On the day of their estranged father’s wedding, half sisters Cheyenne and Livy set off to claim their inheritance. It’s been years since the two have seen each other. Cheyenne is newly back in Seattle, crashing with Livy after a failed marriage and a series of dead ends. Livy works refinishing boats, her resentment against her freeloading sister growing as she tamps down dreams of fishing off the coast of Alaska. But the promise of a shot at financial security brings the two together to claim what’s theirs. Except, instead of money, what their father gives them is information–a name–which both reveals a stunning family secret and compels them to come to grips with it. In the face of their new reality, the sisters and their adopted brother each set out on journeys that will test their faith in one another, as well as their definitions of freedom.

Moving from Seattle’s underground to the docks of the Far North, from the hideaways of the southern swamps to the storied reaches of the Great Offshore Grounds, Vanessa Veselka spins a tale with boundless verve, linguistic vitality, and undeniable tenderness.”

For some books, the blurb is so spot on, it’s hard to craft a review that does anywhere near as good a job. “Vanessa Veselka spins a tale with boundless verve, linguistic vitality, and undeniable tenderness” (from the publisher). And yes, that is it! That is this book.

This was clearly a work of literary fiction. There was beautiful prose, an unconventional family unit, and lingering questions at the end of the story.

Reflecting upon this novel, it struck me as a series of misfortunes; self-inflicted, natural and societal; overcome by sheer will or dealt with in a way that may be seen as the lesser of two evils. The characters are confronted with poverty, tornados, theft, limited health care, rape, storms and any number of other things. Through persistence, the kindness of strangers and sheer doggedness, the characters in this book manage to make it to the other side.

One of the draws for me to this book was the idea of casting “new light on the mythologies–national, individual, and collective…”. This story has many personal philosophies different from my own. I re-read several passages trying to better understand a group of characters who hold fast to beliefs I do not personally hold. As I read, and later reflected, I recognized some prejudices in myself that it was somewhat refreshing to confront. One of the great joys of reading! We may share a country and national history, but the way we approach everyday life can be so different.

This story will stay with me for a long time. I would not be at all surprised if I chose to read this one again (and again and again)!

I got an ARC of this book from NetGalley and my copy says it is an uncorrected proof. As a relatively new (or at least not very experienced) reviewer of ARCs, this was my first one. I am not completely sure what the final book will look like, but my copy did not have a lot of obvious errors and I was not stymied by plot holes or character issues. I do understand that some quotes/lines/parts may change between my reading and publication. The publication date on this one appears to be the end of August.

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