3 New Books About Water to Cool You Off
You may not have noticed if you sit inside all day and read books, but in the northern hemisphere (and particularly in parts of North America) there have been some pretty nasty temperatures out there. The heat waves aren’t particularly fun to surf; they’re sticky, smelly, and gross, and they tend to provoke a sluggish sort of feeling. If the inferno has you down, never fear! The antidote in this week’s book club is found in bodies of water, the most traditional way to beat the heat. Cruise the ocean, swim the seas, or just jump in the pool: We have all of them in new novel releases.
1. The Last Cruise by Kate Christensen ($27): Okay, so maybe the ocean will seem a little less appealing once you read this novel set on the mishap-laden last bon voyage of a long-serving cruise ship. Christensen, winner of the 2008 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction for The Last Man, pens a tale that Kirkus Reviews describes as “an entertaining mashup of Ship of Fools and Titanic.” The Queen Isabella first sailed in 1953, but her ‘70s-chic looks and lack of modern amenities has made her a fossil. Before putting her out to sea-pasture, her owners have decided to take her on one last refined, adults-only trip that harkens back to midcentury cruising — no cell phones allowed.
“It struck Christine as completely absurd that she had just flown across the entire country and was about to get on a boat and sail to Hawaii. Back home, people went on cruises that left from Portland or Boston and sailed down the Atlantic coast to the Caribbean, or up to Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. Not that she’d ever been on a cruise before. She hated cruise ships. If Valerie hadn’t invited her and insisted through Christine’s repeated demurrals, Christine would never have agreed to do it. But now that she was here, sitting in this seductive warmth, she was glad that she had.”
As a kind of Downton Abbey at sea, we get insight into what’s happening on both the upper and lower decks, with characters including a variety of passengers (like the aforementioned Christine, wife to a Maine farmer), a harried sous chef, staff in semi-revolt (and the journalist Valerie ready to break a story on cruise ship labor practices), and the string quartet (based in Israel) that plays on the boat and has been together for 40 years. Though they’re premiering a new, exciting piece, they are feeling the strains of age on their work and their relationships. The ship is definitely also feeling its age, and some serious engine and electricity problems begin to occur. The staff and passengers need to band together to survive, but they’re equally likely to drown each other. But we know that their hearts will go on.
2. The Seas by Samantha Hunt ($20): When The Seas was originally published in 2004, it earned its writer a National Book Award for writers under 35. It’s easy to see why; its hypnotic, poetic prose is both captivating and unsettling. In a town so far north all the connecting highways only run south, the young narrator and her mother have been left to fend for themselves for the past 11 years, ever since her father disappeared into the sea. Holding out hope that he’ll return, the awkward, lonely woman clings to the idea that her father once called her a mermaid.
Right now, though, she’s a chambermaid for an unpopular motel called The Seas, where the owner (who has also lost fishermen in her family to the water) names all the rooms after famous storms and hurricanes, leaving detailed information by the bed. The young narrator copes with her life by falling madly, consumptively in love with Jude, an Iraq War vet with PTSD who’s more than a decade older. Living a life that’s halfway between a dream and reality, her attempts at freedom will eventually lead her to captivity, but even the pages of the book can’t hold her for long.
“After the woman who owns the Seas asked me about why the ocean would make such a storm that both her father and brother would die in it, I asked Jude about it. He didn’t know why exactly but said that on the surface of the ocean, the tallest theoretical wave made by the wind could reach a height of one hundred and ninety-eight feet. This would be called a rogue, any wave over seventy feet is called that. He told me little is known of these waves because if you see one you most often die. These rogue waves usually come in threes. The three sisters is what they are called. Just like the dry land to name the cruel things in the water after women.” The unreliable, hallucinatory narration will buoy you forward like a wave.
3. The Lido by Libby Page ($25): if you prefer your bodies of water a bit smaller and less threatening, you might enjoy diving into this read that pairs octogenarian Rosemary Peterson with 20-something Kate Matthews, as both try to save their local neighborhood pool in Brixton, London, from the chopping block. Brixton is almost unrecognizable to Rosemary, particularly in the last few years since it’s become heavily gentrified. She’s aged and changed too, but she’s still as sharp as ever and can still remember the days of her youth; in particular, she remembers all the experiences she’s had by the side of the lido. The pool was where she escaped the vagaries of World War II; it’s where she fell in love with her husband of many years, George, and where she coped with his death. When a housing development company sets its sights on the lido’s prime real estate, she knows she has to fight back.
“Spring is in bloom and the park wears a new green coat. There are the tennis courts, a garden, and a small hill with an old house that used to be a manor and is now used for events and a concession selling ice cream and snacks to sticky-fingered children. Two sets of train tracks loop around the park: the real one and a miniature one that is only for the summer and very small children. The sun is just starting to set and Rosemary can see people, enjoying the lengthening days. Runners make their way up the hill and down again. And on the edge of the park closest to her balcony a low redbrick building wraps its arms around a perfect blue rectangle of water. The pool is striped with ropes that split the lanes and she can see bright towels on the decking. Swimmers float in the water like petals. It is a place she knows well. It is the lido, her lido.”
When Rosemary meets Kate, the younger woman has recently moved to Brixton and finds it lonely, isolating, and discouraging. Her passion is journalism, but instead of the stories she wants to cover, she’s stuck writing puff pieces for the local newspaper. The story of the potential closure of the lido, however, might be something bigger; it’s something Kate can get interested in, and might even ignite a desire to get organized. If nothing else, it brings the two women together for an unlikely and enriching friendship. Filled with Rosemary’s memories of her relationship with George and the swimming she’s done throughout her life, the book will make you want to take a dip.
What books do you want to dive into? Tag us in your next immersive read @BritandCo.
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