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Hannah’s Pick of the Week: Wild and Distant Seas by Tara Karr Roberts


A crowd of whales simmers and swirls, their chorus of whistles and clicks resounding through the sea. In the center a rusty cloud of blood disrupts the jewel-blue ocean. A tail emerges, disappears, reappears; a slack, supple body follows. A baby is born. The granddaughter.

Tara Karr Roberts, Wild and Distant Seas, pg. 166


A confession: I only vaguely remember what happens in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. Sure, I recall some themes through cultural osmosis: “Call me Ishmael,” the white whale, and so on. But to me, the one thing that stuck was Captain Ahab and his quest for revenge; he kept the story afloat until the ship sank with only Ishmael left behind, destruction in his wake. Ishmael, at the wrong place at the wrong time, who as the narrator is remembered for his story and story alone.

I also have a fondness for spinning a classic story on its head and focusing on one of the peripheral characters, such as in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. In Wild and Distant Seas, we focus first on Mrs. Evangeline Hussey, whose opening line to each of her inn patrons is “clam or cod?” Mrs. Evangeline Hussey, who hasn’t technically been a “Mrs.” in years since her husband Hosea drowned in a fishing accident. Mrs. Evangeline Hussey, who can convince people of anything, to change their memories with a bit of force and a slight change in intonation. Mrs. Evangeline Hussey, whose one-time affair with Ishmael will set off a hurricane of events connecting four generations of magically inclined Hussey women, spanning half a century and half the globe, to their own white whale. From Evangeline’s wayward daughter in Boston to her orphaned granddaughter in Brazil to her distant great-granddaughter in Italy, a single night sets off a chain reaction that no one could have foreseen.

Evangeline, Rachel, Mara, Antonia, Evangeline. All interconnected, all looking for Ishmael.

With melodic prose and steady pacing, complete with gorgeous worldbuilding around the Hussey family, Wild and Distant Seas is one to seek out. As crushing and beautiful as the sea itself, Roberts weaves a tale of mistakes made and unmade throughout generations. If you are looking for a family saga involving women and storytelling, The Wren, The Wren by Anne Enright could be a modern parallel to this book. If you were looking for another retelling, March by Geraldine Brooks follows the patriarch of the March family in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women and would be a great next read.



Headshot of Tara Karr Roberts, author of Wild and Distant Seas; Photo by Tim Roberts, Courtesy of W.W. Norton and Company




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