Thursday, March 27, 2014

Book Review: "Of Sea and Cloud" by Jon Keller

Full disclosure: I received an advance readers copy of this book from NetGalleys in exchange for an unbiased review.

Nicolas Graves has known nothing more than the life of a lobsterman. Day in, day out, year after year, he has focused on hauling in lobsters, setting his traps, and worrying about the price per pound. This single-minded focus was for the benefit of his family, but while he and his son Bill were tremendously close, his relationship with his son Joshua (known as Jonah) was fraught with tension and misunderstanding from an early age.

When Nicolas is lost at sea, Bill and Jonah pick up their father's mantle as lobstermen. Both learned at their father's side, and while Jonah left to go to college, he returned to follow in his father's footsteps. Yet their father's death has left them at odds—the two sons don't share the same opinions on what to do next, and have different priorities, especially as the price of lobster plunges across the world.

Bill wants nothing more than to continue as his father would, while Jonah isn't sure that this way of life is the answer anymore. While Bill finds himself enmeshed in a romantic relationship with a girl he grew up with, Jonah is restless and wonders whether his father's death wasn't some kind of sign. Yet as the brothers struggle with each other, and Jonah must deal with his unresolved feelings about his relationship with his father.

But Bill and Jonah also find themselves at odds with an unexpected enemy—Osmond Raymond, their father's partner in the lobster pound business for years. Osmond is also the town preacher and a deeply vengeful and difficult man. Despite his years of loyalty and friendship with Nicolas, he is determined to take control of the business for the sake of his children and grandchildren—no matter what the cost to Bill and Jonah, and no matter what gets destroyed in the process.

Of Sea and Cloud is a powerful story of loyalty—to family, friends, and a way of life that gets harder and harder. It's a story of relationships, resentments, unspoken fears and hurts and arguments. It's also a story of fighting for what you believe in, no matter what the cost. It's a familiar story, but Jon Keller tells it quite adeptly.

Keller is an excellent writer, and this book has a very strong voice that makes you feel as if you're among the lobstermen, deeply enmeshed in their day-to-day struggles. While these characters may be similar to others you've seen in other books, Keller's storytelling ability still keeps them interesting and fresh, and makes you want to keep reading about them. The feeling of tension and of weariness are palpable in this book, and they really set the mood.

The life of lobstermen is one I can't really imagine, but Of Sea and Cloud gave me enough insight into their challenges that I was able to understand why they do what they do every day, and why they struggle in face of danger and economic challenges. This is an interesting, well-told book that resonates.

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