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The Rathbones (2013)

by Janice Clark

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2102391,708 (3.24)12
The fifteen-year-old heir of a once-prosperous seafaring dynasty in New England spends her days in a crumbling ancestral mansion where she studies the secrets of Greek history and navigation before embarking on a voyage that reveals her family's haunted history.

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The night I finished reading The Rathbones I dreamed of water and ruin. I woke up this morning and had to remind myself that I'm in Kansas, not near the ocean and nowhere in the vicinity of a ship or a widow's walk.

Imagery of water, weirdness and whales flows through every page of The Rathbones. Janice Clark's art and design background makes it easy to visualize every detail in this weathered and somewhat scary world by the Atlantic. She is excellent at describing fabrics, clothing, architecture, environment, furnishings. I felt brined and excited to touch the ropes, the anchors, the sunbeaten boards of the deck. Clark is also gifted in important details like the characters' names -- Mercy, Mordecai, Verity, Hepzibah, Amaziah, Euphemia -- and in doing so she makes sure the reader is submerged in this saltwatery New England seacoast. These are the strengths of the book.

Motivation, empathy, laws of physics -- these are the weaknesses of the book. Although it's written in first person (mostly), I wasn't able to get inside Mercy's head at all. She's detached, robotic, and quite hard to empathize with. She is being chased through much of the book and although she is on the run for months, doesn't seem to care. At one point she has just been yelled at, told to leave, and is being assaulted with heavy objects thrown at her. She runs through the hall briefly to escape, then slips into the library to make commentary on the shape and content of the books there.

She narrates her tale with a neutral, glassy eye, making no emotional commentary even as she watches her mother die while having sexual intercourse with her father, who then repeatedly rams himself into the lifeless body. (awkward!) Mercy is the heroine of the tale but not easy to relate to or to like. I had a hard time getting through certain parts of the book because I never got to see her as human so therefore I didn't really care what happened to her.

Although I felt myself wholly engaged in the physical sights and textures of this world, I had a hard time figuring out its actual 'rules of physics.' Mercy's crows could pick her up and fly her places, but she hides in a trunk with them and crushes and kills one even though we are told repeatedly how tiny and light she is - there's no squawking, no show of strength from this bird? A wooden oar is tossed onto a rock and "shatters?" While a rowboat is sinking, a man uses a powdery substance to plug the hole? The scholar tries to tie his long hair back and accidentally knots himself to a ship's rigging? Mercy knows anatomy so well that she can assemble a human skeleton in the dark, who is only missing one bone, "the left ring finger?" I struggled with cartoons like these.

I loved the ambition of this novel and the promise of an epic adventure centering on a brave young girl. I would recommend it for a second reading, and I might go back and do that because it was hard to keep the plot straight for me this first time around. Although it wasn't perfect, I enjoyed my time in the islands reading waterlogged ledgers and feeling the spray of great whales swimming below the surface. ( )
  gakgakg | May 28, 2020 |
Didnt finish this, too convoluted.
  AnnaHernandez | Oct 17, 2019 |
I didn't particularly love this book while I was reading it but the images have stayed with me popping into my head over the years. That must count for something. I'd say 4 stars ( )
  ZephyrusW | Jan 22, 2018 |
the oddities of this novel didn't work for me at the moment, though i am fully prepared to accept the fault is my own in my current state. :/ ( )
  Booktrovert | Jan 12, 2018 |
Someone else mentioned this is a kind of [b:Moby Dick|3209693|Moby Dick (Graphic Classics)|Rod Espinosa|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1347576219s/3209693.jpg|27016319] meets [b:One Hundred Years of Solitude|320|One Hundred Years of Solitude|Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1327881361s/320.jpg|3295655]. Throw in [b:The Odyssey|1381|The Odyssey|Homer|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1390173285s/1381.jpg|3356006] and you've got an accurate description.

Mercy and her cousin Mordecai flee Rathbone house after Mercy is chased by the 'man in blue' after she was discovered spying on her mother while he 'rode her body.' The cousins are in search of the sperm whales and Mercy's father who has been gone for nearly ten years. Their journey takes them to a few different locations that are directly tied to their family's history, and Mercy (and us) learn of that history along the way. The whole story is leading up to the marriage of her parents so that eventually we understand why her mother is always pacing the widow's walk and rocking it with this 'man in blue.'

The connection to Moby Dick comes from the Rathbone family's obsession with whaling, One Hundred Years of Solitude is the generations of the family of which some members have extra-wordly sensibilities, and The Odyssey is in the various stops and mythical-like creatures the pair encounter and how their voyage leads them right back to its beginning.

It took a long time for me to have any empathy for the characters, and I never really cared for them. Moses, the patriarch, is crazy in how he sets up his own whaling "company" (sons by a string of wives who get passed around all the sons and are nothing but female studs). The naïve and simple Golden Wives and their incestuous daughters who are more reckless and irresponsible than I can imagine. Their inbred children are mythical in their deformities, but whatever.

It was something to read but not to recommend. ( )
  LDVoorberg | Dec 3, 2017 |
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