Tag Archives: Baltimore

Review: On Such a Full Sea by Chang-Rae Lee

On Such a Full Sea by Chang-Rae Lee

Where did I get this book? The library.

In this dystopian novel, Chang-Rae Lee depicts a future where economic and class divisions have become formalized in separate communities. The story revolves around Fan, a young tank diver in a fish farm. She is a quiet and hard-working member of her community, B-Mor, where order and family come first. B-Mor is a facilities settlement, established to provide agricultural products to the wealthy Charter villages.

The Charters hold significant power over B-Mor, determining the residents’ access to medical care and the minimum occupancy for their communal residences. A tiny percentage of students pass a test allowing them to leave for a presumably brighter future in the Charters, but ambitions are modest at best for most of the population.

When Fan’s boyfriend, Reg, disappears after a mandated medical check-up, Fan slips away from B-Mor. Their love and their fates beyond the boundaries of the settlement become the subject of a communal obsession among those they left behind.

If at this point you are imagining a breathless first-person present narrative featuring a young, action-star heroine on a mission to save her lost love, I’m going to have to stop you right there. This story is told primarily from the collective perspective of the B-Mor residents, a choice that sometimes renders the story frustratingly opaque and emotionally distant.

That being said, Fan’s journey is a compelling one, revealing a landscape marred by inequality and self-interest. Outside the safe walls of┬áthe facilities and the Charters lie the counties, where lawlessness and violence prevail. Fan uses her youthful appearance to pass for a child and demonstrates remarkable presence of mind in the face of numerous threats. Somehow she retains a quiet, centered gift for compassion that the world in all its cruelty cannot touch. Whether that will be enough remains uncertain, even in the book’s final pages.

Genre: Literary dystopia.

Read it if: You enjoy speculative fiction by literary novelists; you enjoy dystopias that explore potential outcomes of current societal trends; you like stories that raise more questions than they answer.

Skip it if: You dislike first-person plural narrators; you object to ambiguous endings; or you prefer your dystopias fast-paced and action-packed.

Movie-worthy: Maybe. It would be an unsettling indie film, for sure.


Review: Hush, Hush by Laura Lippman

Where did I get this book? I bought it at the National Book Festival!

Where did I get this book? I bought it at the National Book Festival!

“Being a mother was like being trapped in the first fifteen minutes of a horror film. Everything was fine, lovely. But there was this persistent sense of dread.”

In Hush, Hush, Laura Lippman’s journalist turned private investigator Tess Monaghan must deal with a demanding client, Melisandre Harris Dawes, a woman once found not guilty by reason of insanity in the tragic death of her baby girl. Now Melisandre has returned to Baltimore after a decade abroad in self-imposed exile, intent on funding a documentary about her case. She seeks to reconnect with her surviving daughters, now teenagers, over the objections of her ex-husband, who has since remarried and has a newborn son.

Meanwhile, Tess struggles to balance the realities of motherhood with the demands of her job. Her daughter, Carla Scout, is now three years old, a source of both joy and exasperation. Crow, Carla’s father, takes on the bulk of the child-care duties and makes parenthood seem easy. Tess worries that she is failing as a mother, that she yells too much, that she’s unnaturally happy when Crow takes Carla Scout for the day.

As always, Lippman delivers an engrossing, suspenseful thriller with genuine emotional depth and an abiding love for all things Baltimore. While the subject matter is intense, it is handled thoughtfully and with compassion.

On a side note, I was fortunate enough to hear Laura Lippman speak at the National Book Festival in Washington, DC last September. She was just as frank and funny in real life as you would expect from reading her books.

Genre: Detective story with true crime authenticity and Baltimore flavor.

Read it if: You are a fan of the Tess Monaghan series; you enjoy reading about private investigators with relatable problems (child care! tantrums at the grocery store!); you like your mysteries with psychological complexity and local flavor.

Skip it if: You are particularly sensitive to stories involving the death of children; you are a “sanctimommy” who enjoys judging other women for their perceived child-rearing failures; you seriously can’t stand Baltimore.

Movie-worthy: I would love to see a mini-series encompassing the entire Tess Monaghan story arc.