Novel 'Sea Creatures' builds on author's promising debut

Iowa Writers' Workshop alum Susanna Daniel writes a beautiful book

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‘Sea Creatures,” the new novel by Iowa Writers’ Workshop alum Susanna Daniel, is a beautiful book. It builds on the promise of Daniel’s first novel, 2010s “Stiltsville,” which is one of my favorite novels of the last several years. “Sea Creatures” (Harper, 314 pages, $25.99) establishes her as one of my favorite authors.

Like her debut novel, much of the story of “Sea Creatures” takes place in Stiltsville, a collection of wood stilt houses on the edge of Biscayne Bay near Miami (Daniel, who will be part of the “Writing in the City of Literature” event during the Iowa City Book Festival in October, manages to unobtrusively link the two books). The novel’s narrator, Georgia, takes a loosely defined job as an errand runner for Charlie, known pejoratively as “the hermit” who lives in Stiltsville. Georgia recently has returned to Miami with her husband, Graham, who suffers from parasomnia (a severe and dangerous sleeping disorder), and their young son, Frankie, who has stopped speaking.

Georgia’s story is one of a family struggling to find normalcy amid upheaval caused by Graham’s condition. It is a story of diverging needs and impossible choices. It also is a story of loyalty and to whom, and at what cost, it is owed. Charlie’s own story — including its intersection with Georgia’s — is fraught with sadness and tenuous hope.

Some — though by no means all — of the events in “Sea Creatures” the reader may anticipate early on. To Daniel’s credit, however, these events are imbued with the weight of inevitability rather than being merely predictable. Georgia’s life feels fully lived rather than arranged to click off plot points.

Georgia’s voice is steady and strong throughout the book, as she examines her life with honesty and courage. Here, she reflects on her husband’s decision to continue kayaking toward a distant shore when she decides to turn back: “Maybe a different man would not have left his wife. But I’d been sincere when I told him to go on without me; I had no illusions about Graham and the decision he would make. Graham didn’t confuse love with overprotectiveness, as so many of us do.”

That quiet, reflective voice is the beating heart of “Sea Creatures.”

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