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The Seal Wifeby Kathryn Harrison
Synopses & Reviews
For the first time in paperback, here is the bestselling novel by "a writer of extraordinary gifts" (Tobias Wolff). Stunning, hypnotic, spare, The Seal Wife tells the story of a young scientist and his consuming love for a woman known only as the Aleut, a woman who refuses to speak.
A novel of passions both dangerous and generative, The Seal Wife explores the nature of desire and its ability to propel an individual beyond himself and outside convention. Kathryn Harrison brilliantly re-creates the Alaskan frontier during the period of the First World War as she explores with deep understanding the interior landscape of the human psyche — a landscape eerily continuous with the splendor and terror of the frozen frontier and the storms that blow over the earth and its face.
"Obsessions are Harrison's forte (The Binding Chair, etc.) and here she plumbs the mind of a young man deprived of companions, diversions and even the basic amenities of civilization who develops a passion for a woman whose very remoteness feeds his desire. In 1915, 26-year-old Bigelow Greene is sent to establish a U.S. weather station in Anchorage, a primitive settlement where the sled dogs howl all night in the 20-hour-long winter darkness. Bigelow is a single-minded man; he first becomes obsessed with the idea of building a huge kite to measure air temperature high in the atmosphere and thus enable long-range forecasting. But he's soon smitten with a woman the locals call the Aleut. She's mysterious, enigmatic, virtually mute sex between she and Bigelow is wordless and when he discovers that she's left Anchorage, Bigelow almost goes mad with longing. Eventually, he succumbs to the lure of another woman, Miriam Getz, the daughter of the storekeeper. She, too, is mute by choice, and she proves to be a demon, the very opposite of the self-contained Aleut. Bigelow is caught in her trap. As Harrison describes the black loneliness of winter and the mosquito-infested summer days, the mood grows darker and more suspenseful, emblematic of Bigelow's desolate psyche. In perfect control of the spare narrative, Harrison writes mesmerizing, cinematically vivid scenes: Native American laborers fascinated by Caruso recordings; the gigantic kite nearly dragging Bigelow to his death off a cliff and, later, soaring into the turbulent sky of a rousing storm. Given these ominous events, and for those who know the Celtic legend of the seal wife, the ending is all the more surprising." Publishers Weekly
"Mesmerizing...harrowing in its emotional intensity, haunting in its evocation of a distant time and place." Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
"Superb, perfect, one might even say soaring." The Seattle Times
"Lyrical passages...reads like profound poetry...the most enterprising and successful portrait of a man in heat by a female writer since Joyce Carol Oates' tumultuously orgasmic What I Lived For." Alan Cheuse, Chicago Tribune
"Intricately wrought...Harrison imbues her solitary silence with a stately air of self-possession." Maria Russo, The New York Times Book Review
"The novel?s undertow of anguish will resonate with anyone who has tried to make sense of desire....Chilled to perfection." People
"Painterly in its pearlescent evocation of the Alaskan landscape, steeped in myth and the magic of science, this is a delectably moody, erotic, and provocative cross-cultural love story." Booklist
"Set in Alaska in 1915, it tells the story of a young scientist's consuming love for a woman known as the Aleut, a woman who never speaks, who refuses to reveal so much as her name." Born and educated in midwestern cities, Bigelow is sent north by the United States government to establish a weather observatory in Anchorage. But what could have prepared him for the loneliness of a railroad town with more than two thousand men and only a handful of women, or for winter nights twenty hours long? And what can protect him from obsession — obsession with a woman who seems in her silence and mystery to possess the power to destroy his life forever, and obsession with the weather kite he invents, a kite he hopes will fly higher than any has ever flown before and will penetrate the secrets of the heavens?
About the Author
Kathryn Harrison is the author of the novels The Binding Chair, Poison, Exposure, and Thicker Than Water. She has also written a memoir, The Kiss. Her personal essays have appeared in The New Yorker, Harper?s Magazine, and other publications. She lives in New York with her husband, the novelist Colin Harrison, and their children.
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