You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to myAJC.com

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.

GREAT REASONS TO SUBSCRIBE TODAY!

  • IN-DEPTH REPORTING
  • INTERACTIVE STORYTELLING
  • NEW TOPICS & COVERAGE
  • ePAPER
X

You have read of premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and bonus content- exclusively for subscribers. Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks

X

Welcome to myAJC.com

This subscriber-only site gives you exclusive access to breaking news, in-depth coverage, exclusive interactives and bonus content.

You can read free articles of your choice a month that are only available on myAJC.com.

“Sea Creatures” explores challenges of marriage, parenthood


Florida native Susanna Daniel (“Stiltsville”) returns to the watery world of her first book with the story of a young mother navigating the responsibilities and risks of parenthood.

In the summer of 1992, Georgia Quillian, her husband Graham, and 3-year-old Frankie moved from Illinois to make a fresh start in her hometown of Coral Gables, Fla. Eight years later, Georgia relives that summer, and in the course of “Sea Creatures,” the events that led up to it.

Graham suffers from a rare sleep disorder that leads to wandering at night, and Frankie has inexplicably stopped speaking. So when they move into a houseboat, even Georgia admits that it’s “a peculiar choice for any family, but especially for us.”

Promising that life on the water will be “an adventure,” Graham brushes aside her fears, and they settle in, he at a nearby oceanography institute, and Georgia as a part-time gofer and curator for a reclusive local artist, Charlie Hicks.

With Frankie in tow, Georgia learns to drive a borrowed two-seater boat across the bay to Charlie’s house in Stiltsville, a collection of wooden houses raised on pilings off the shores of Key Biscayne. From their very first visit, Georgia sees how “Frankie might … tumble down the stairs or off the dock.” When he disappears at one point, she signs to him, “I have to be able to see you all the time.”

In a story overflowing with the ways life tests us, regardless of how vigilantly we scour the horizon for danger, Georgia finds that “to be a parent is terrifying. But it seems to me that what worries us most — pedophiles, kidnappers, dog attacks — is least likely to happen, while what is most likely is some unimagined event. And how do we prepare for that?”

It’s a question most of the characters in Daniel’s book, many of them parents, have already dealt with to varying degrees of success, including Georgia’s late mother, whom she misses every day; her mostly absent father, a musician; her brusque but supportive stepmother; and Charlie, whose grief over the loss of his grown daughter has cost him a normal life.

And Graham. Though his sleepwalking involves violent episodes, he appears to be a father whose keen sense of fun and adventure offsets Georgia’s motherly anxieties. But since Frankie’s silence began, Graham has been distant, and when his job requires him to be gone for weeks at a time, Georgia sees a surprising change in her son’s behavior.

By comparison, Charlie radiates protection. He engages Frankie the minute they meet, learns to sign so they can communicate, and eventually takes the boy swimming, fishing and even diving in the shallow waters around his house. The sea creatures of the title refer to Charlie’s drawings and a show Georgia organizes for him at a Miami gallery, but also to the miniature toys Charlie gives her son, one for each visit: a seahorse, a little octopus, a small cast-iron mermaid, a tiny scuba diver.

Charlie’s focused affection for Frankie is a world away from Graham’s haphazard attentions. Charlie “wore fatherhood on his skin,” Georgia notes; the fiercely independent Graham “remained exactly the person he’d always been” before Frankie came along.

But Daniel draws the line at turning any of her characters into heroes or villains. Charlie has his demons, and Georgia feels sure she’s doing motherhood wrong. Complicating her role — and part of the novel’s honest exploration of the sacrifices a parent makes for a child — is Georgia’s craving for excitement and the way Graham’s risk-taking has defined their relationship.

With Frankie, a child so winsome and lovable your heart will pound every time he buckles on his water wings, “the stakes are higher.” The choice Georgia will have to make seems no less shattering than the hurricane heading straight for their stretch of the Florida coast.

The author, who grew up in Miami and spent much of her childhood in Stiltsville, offers a sensuous tribute full of history and local beauty to the area: “I marveled at the canopy of star-salted night, the dark open water spotted by whitecaps, the indistinct indigo horizon.”

An undercurrent of disaster pervades the novel, with its broad hints of bad luck and Georgia’s reminders of how the railings around Charlie’s house leave “plenty of room … for a toddler to fall through.” Yet Daniel’s celebration of life is so quietly joyous — in Georgia’s fond descriptions of her child and mercurial husband, in Charlie’s “intricate and evocative” drawings of sea creatures, and in the tender relationships that develop — that we cast our fears aside much as Georgia does.

“Traffic, heights, water,” Graham says. “There’s always something.” He’s right, of course. But the real risks Daniel asks us to consider are the inevitable ones that accompany love, including the hard and sometimes dangerous bargains we make to hold onto it.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Living

10 fun ways to spend a rainy day
10 fun ways to spend a rainy day

Early spring can be a pretty gray and gloomy time of year – the rain seems to be constant, and things have not yet begun to grow. Here are 10 tips for fun things you can do on a rainy day. If it’s a rainy weekend day, the kids will need things to do. Try a treasure hunt. Make one set of clues for every player (make the clues rhyme for added...
Usher and The Roots will perform on Facebook Live telethon for the ACLU
Usher and The Roots will perform on Facebook Live telethon for the ACLU

Usher will perform with The Roots on the Friday Facebook Live event. BY MELISSA RUGGIERI/AJC Music Scene Usher and The Roots have signed on to perform during the “Stand for Rights: A Benefit for the ACLU” Facebook Live “telethon.
Life after ‘American Idol’: Lee DeWyze’s ‘Walking Dead’ connection, return to Eddie’s Attic March 30
Life after ‘American Idol’: Lee DeWyze’s ‘Walking Dead’ connection, return to Eddie’s Attic March 30

HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA – APRIL 07: Recording artist Lee DeWyze performs onstage during FOX’s “American Idol” Finale For The Farewell Season at Dolby Theatre on April 7, 2016 in Hollywood, California.
Dreams of living in Camelot? Check out this $2.3 million medieval home in Texas
Dreams of living in Camelot? Check out this $2.3 million medieval home in Texas

Want a home fit for a king? It looks unassuming from the outside, but this five-bedroom, four-bathroom home in Shady Hollow Estateshas a custom stained glass and a “knight’s retreat” complete with ceiling paintings telling the knight’s story. If you’ve ever wished you could live in a Renaissance fair year-round and...
‘DWTS’ pro Cheryl Burke replaces Abby Lee Miller on ‘Dance Moms’
‘DWTS’ pro Cheryl Burke replaces Abby Lee Miller on ‘Dance Moms’

“Dance Moms” instructor Abbey Lee Miller blindsided fans when she announced she was quitting the Lifetime reality TV show Monday, but the network is moving on fast. According to Entertainment Tonight, “Dancing with the Stars” pro Cheryl Burke will be on board with the show for the rest of the season. “It's a go with...
More Stories