Some people read in pursuit of plot. Then, there’s depth of character, whether or not dialogue feels natural, sense of place, narrative tension. I’m picky about these things, and go further still, in the quest to lose myself in excellent sentences. I feel about sentences the way I believe some folks feel about a runner’s high; a really, truly great sentence could elicit from me a fist thrown in the air, a slow clap, a heartfelt “WOO!” (I assume that’s something close to what runners do.)
There are a lot of books that do all of these things well. I’d even venture so far as to say most of the books I’ve read in the past couple years have ticked almost all of those boxes for me; but OH MY GOD, Mercy of the Tide.
Set in a sleepy town on the Oregon Coast in the early 1980's, we follow four compelling characters as they navigate having their normalcy upended.
I was on page 7 the first time I interrupted my husband as he read his Harpers in bed. “Listen, listen to this dialogue,” I said.
“Fornication!” Lyley said as if Dobbs hadn’t spoken. “I see bonfires down there at all hours. All hours. You go down there and it’s like a – like a hobo encampment. Empty alcohol containers. Trash everywhere.” He suddenly lurched forward, eyes dark and gleeful behind his lenses. “Multiple rubbers of the used variety, Sherriff.”
It’s not a funny book, per se, but it is delightful. The characters are complex, the dialogue is straight up killer, and the sense of place – O! – the sense of place.
Tell me you haven’t been exactly to this place.
Toad’s house had been orange once, like a shout sent out against the dreariness of the town, but salt and sea and time had done its work, and beneath the cap of roof the house now was the faded, wind-worn color of sherbet. A leaning dollhouse with a few of its shingles lying glittery and broken in the yard, the steps of the front porch furred in green moss. Mr. Whitlock’s Harley sat under a blue tarp in the driveway.
That is what I mean by a runner’s high collection of sentences. SHUT UP, KEITH ROSSON, WITH YOUR BEAUTIFUL, BEAUTIFUL SENSE OF PLACE. I mean, really. To do such lovely things with unlovely images in a way that provides just enough magic without dragging the reader down the author’s own self-indulgent path is extremely difficult. I know this, because I am attempting to do it all the time in my own writing. I tip my hat. Hell, Keith Rosson can straight up have the whole hat if he continues to write sentences such as these for me to read.
But it wasn’t only the characters, or the dialogue, or the sense of place, or the beautiful sentences that made The Mercy of the Tide so different. What it really came down to was the tension. You know that feeling when you’re watching television on the couch next to someone, and you’ve binged up to the point where shit is really starting to go down, and then it takes a turn, and you find yourself slapping at the arm of the person next to you, opening your mouth, but finding yourself speechless? I don’t know if that’s ever happened to me in a book before The Mercy of the Tide, but page 250 on had me in that partner-slapping whaaaaaattttt mode all the way through to the end.
I read a lot of really excellent books this year, so it required a considerable amount of squinting out at the birdhouses beyond my window to consider whether what I’m about to say is a true and fair assessment, but here it is: The Mercy of the Tide earns, in my opinion, best book of 2017. I highly recommend you buy it here.
Review by Brandi Dawn Cornelius.
Published by Meerkat Press