Oh my, it’s hard to describe how happy it makes me to find a novel like The Watery Part of the World by Michael Parker (Algonquin, 2011) in my piles of books to be read. It doesn’t happen often; and when it does, it’s transporting. Once I read the first paragraph or two, I found it all but impossible to put down. Parker’s novel takes flight from the two historical facts it’s grounded in: Theodosia, Aaron Burr’s beloved daughter, who was married to the governor of South Carolina, disappeared in 1813 off the coast of North Carolina while she was traveling by ship to New York to see her father. One hundred and fifty years later, the remaining three residents of a tiny North Carolina barrier island decide to leave their homes and property and move to the mainland. Through the lives of its characters, this elegantly written tale reflects on the nature of race, love, regret, dependence, fear, sorrow, honor, and envy—the eternal challenge of being human. The characters, even the minor ones, are fully formed; the setting is so vividly described that you feel you know it intimately, and Parker’s writing is purely wonderful. Here’s a brief quotation that will give you a sense of the way he makes words work:
He said he knew she was sorry. He said in the way people say, “I know you’re sorry,” which makes you understand how pitiful you would be to them were they in the mind to pity you.