Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Shining Sea

Shining Sea by Anne Korkeakivi
Little, Brown and Company: 8/9/16
eBook review copy; 288 pages
ISBN-13: 9780316307840

Shining Sea by Anne Korkeakivi is a highly recommended family saga that spans generations.

The novel opens with Michael Gannon, 43, family patriarch and Bataan Death March survivor, realizing that he is about to die from a heart attack while finishing painting their California home. The focus then shifts to his widow, Barbara, mother of four: Mike Jr., Luke, Francis, Patty Ann, and pregnant with their fifth child, Sissy, and to Francis, the troubled youngest son. Chapters in the novel open with the dates, chronologically ranging from 1962 to 2015. Each dated chapter then follows either Barbara or Francis and the events that happened to them or the family that year, from their point of view.

The time span between chapters can be short or span many years, unlike family sagas that follow a set year by year progression (like Jane Smiley's hundred year's trilogy). While there is insight into family dynamics and the impact loss and war has played in their lives, the only two family members the reader will have any insight into are Barbara and Francis. Barbara's chapters will have more about her children, especially Patty Ann's troubled life, but the insight provided is based on what Barbara sees and experiences. Francis is always on the move, on the run, and an enigma to his family.

Shining Sea is well written and the story of the Gannon family, told through the experiences of Barbara and Francis, is captivating. The changing family dynamics over the years is captured along with the attitudes of the changing times. The damage, both physical and psychological, and loss the family experiences are caused by war, either the declared/military or the domestic variety, is poignantly captured. Life rarely turns out how you planned it to; it can be challenging, difficult and full of pain. It can also be full of hope and beauty. I think Barbara captured the acceptance of a situation and the ability to keep moving forward, even though she also chooses to be in denial sometimes.

There are a couple drawbacks for me. First is that the other children and characters are not fully developed. Then, there is closure at the end, but it seemed almost too pat. The final niggling thought I have about Shining Sea is not really a problem as it is endemic and what is expected of a family saga, but, at a certain point, if you have lived long enough, you have experienced all they have or more.

Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of the publisher for review purposes.

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