Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Watery Part of the World by Michael Parker

This short novel tells the story of 150 years on a North Carolina barrier island.

It begins in 1813 when the beautiful daughter of Aaron Burr, Theodosia Burr Alston, vanishes en route to New York. Her ship is captured by pirates and she is taken to their island lair, Nag’s Head, where, acting the madwoman, she is determined to secure the tin boxes containing her father’s papers, to prove to the world he is not the villain most think him, and the portrait of her she had painted for him as a gift.

It ends 150 years later with the last three inhabitants of the island—the elderly Whaley sisters, Maggie and Theodosia, and Woodrow, the old black man who faithfully tends them until time and events forces them to leave.

It is also a book of complex and unusual love stories—Theodosia Burr Alston and the man with the mysterious past who saves her; Woodrow and his beloved bride Sarah; and the unconventional Maggie who swims naked and loves a younger man, almost enough to leave the island for him.

Theodosia Burr Alston is one of my favorite historical figures, and I’ve been fascinated by her disappearance and the mystery of the Nag’s Head Portrait for years, so it was a delight to find a novel woven around this fascinating woman and the mysteries surrounding the end of her life. Overall, I preferred the parts of the book dealing with Theodosia over the more modern bits and her descendants, but it was still an interesting book to keep company with on a rainy weekend.

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