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The Rathbonesby Janice Clark
Like so many other literary works, The Rathbones is about family secrets and their discovery. What Janice Clark does with this ubiquitous theme puts the magic in magical realism. Dreamlike yet surprisingly vivid, you will feel the spindrift on your face and taste the salt air on your lips as you journey with Mercy and Mordecai — the last descendants of a once-proud whaling dynasty — on their quest to find Mercy's father, inadvertently learning the secret history of the Rathbone clan and the cause of their eventual downfall. Utterly captivating, Clark's debut novel succeeds where so many others fail, marrying disturbingly beautiful prose with deeply engaging storytelling.
Synopses & Reviews
A gothic, literary adventure set in New England, Janice Clark's haunting debut chronicles one hundred years of a once prosperous and now crumbling whaling family, told by its last surviving member.
Mercy Rathbone, fifteen years old, is the diminutive scion of the Rathbone clan. Her father, the last in the beleaguered dynasty, has been lost at sea for seven years — ever since the last whale was seen off the coast of Naiwayonk, Connecticut. Mercy's memories of her father grow dimmer each day, and she spends most of her time in the attic hideaway of her reclusive uncle Mordecai, who teaches her the secrets of Greek history and nautical navigation through his collection of specimens and moldering books. But when a strange, violent visitor turns up one night, Mercy and Mordecai are forced to flee the crumbling mansion and set sail on a journey that will bring them deep into the haunted history of the Rathbone family, and the reasons for its undoing.
As Mercy and Mordecai sail from island to island off the Connecticut coast, encountering dangers and mysteries, friends and foes, they untangle the knots of the Rathbone story, discovering secrets long encased in memory. They learn the history of the family’s founder and patriarch, Moses Rathbone, and the legendary empire he built of ships staffed with the sons of his many, many wives. Sons who stumbled in their father’s shadow, distracted by the arrival of the Stark sisters, a trio of “golden” girls, whose mesmerizing beauty may have sparked the Rathbone’s decline.
From the depths of the sea to the lonely heights of the widow’s walk; from the wisdom of the worn Rathbone wives to the mysterious origins of a sinking island, Mercy and Mordecai’s journey will bring them to places they never thought possible. But will they piece together a possible future from the mistakes of the past, or is the once great family’s fate doomed to match that of the whales themselves?
Inspired by The Odyssey by way of Edgar Allan Poe and Moby Dick, The Rathbones is an ambitious, mythic, and courageous tour de force that marks the debut of a dazzling new literary voice.
“Fabulous....Cleverly crafted and a beguiling read....[The Rathbones] will provide landlubbers many a diverting hour following the fortunes of this salty family....Woven from many fantastical threads....Part fairy tale, part sea yarn (with nods to Melville and Hemingway), part Homeric epic, it is also a story of star-crossed love, spiced with Gothic Poe-like details and a dollop of farce.” The Boston Globe
“This is a novel of vividly imagined settings: the Rathbone home, the islands Mercy and Mordecai visit, the ship on which they sail. Clark’s command of language and power of description are the novel’s great strengths....Clark’s writing is unquestionably beautiful....Be borne away by the novel’s lyricism and return from the journey refreshed.” The Dallas Morning News
“Drawing on Edgar Allan Poe, Homer and Herman Melville, an ambitious saga of lineage and whaling....Simultaneously mythic, gothic and whimsical....Clark imagines a rich hinterland to her briny story...[and] seduces with her vision and prose.” Kirkus Reviews
“A story so grandly conceived that it recalls both the Odyssey and Moby-Dick and will make you taste the sea....Tragic and magical, mythic and magisterial...an absorbing good read.” Library Journal
“Take a deep breath before you start reading The Rathbones, and renew regularly. Her book is vastly appealing in its primal reach back to the Odyssey and Moby-Dick. The Rathbones will draw in men and women alike, and at its close, many of those readers may well be inclined to take another deep breath — and start all over again.” Bookpage
“[A] beautifully written, playful and intricate debut novel. Clark creates evocative descriptions...making her images and encounters between people especially vivid.” Publishers Weekly, starred review
“Unforgettable....Clark’s magic is in creating places that will linger with you, and make you long for the sea as if you, too, were spawned from an ancient whaling family.” The Chicago Tribune
About the Author
Janice Clark is a writer and designer living in Chicago. She grew up in Mystic, Connecticut (land of whaling and pizza) and has lived in Montreal, Kansas City, San Francisco, and New York, where she earned an MFA in writing at NYU. Her short fiction has appeared in Pindeldyboz and The Nebraska Review, and her design work is represented in the Museum of Modern Art. The Rathbones, which she also illustrated, is her first novel.
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