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The Lobster Kings

by Alexi Zentner

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16632144,454 (3.39)42
The Kings family has lived on Loosewood Island for 300 years, and they've been blessed with the bounty of the sea. But for the Kings', every blessing comes with a curse. Woody is the leader of the island's lobster fishing community and the family patriarch. Cordelia, his oldest of three daughters, stands to inherit the crown. To do so, however, she has to fend off meth dealers from the mainland while navigating sibling rivalry and her own heart when she falls in love with her sternman.… (more)
  1. 20
    A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley (kjgormley)
    kjgormley: They are both King Lear retellings.
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300 years ago Brumfitt Kings moved to a small island on the border of Maine and Nova Scotia, somewhere in the nowhere land between the US and Canada. It starts as a seasonal job, then he remains behind while everyone gets back and then he decides to stay forever. He starts to write a diary and to paint - the diary will provide the stories for his descendants, the paintings will be "discovered" by the art world and make the current generation comfortably well-off. And it seems like the ocean and Brumfitt had made a deal - because the family can always catch the biggest and best lobsters. But they pay a price - a son is always lost in the water - one way or another.

By the time we meet his descendants, they are the biggest lobstermen on the small Loosewood Island. Woody, the patriarch is still a lobsterman at heart, despite the painting allowing him other choices and his oldest daughter, Cordelia, is as interested in it as he is.

The novel moves between the diary of Brumfitt, descriptions of his paintings (from Cordelia), the back story of the current generation and the now and here of the life on the island - where lobstermen from the neighboring islands and the mainland are trying the steal the catch of the island's families and drugs are finally hitting the peaceful community. Well, relatively peaceful.

Each of those stories have its own heartbreak and beauty. Not everything is beautiful and there is no character who is completely innocent or good - this is real life after all, not one's idealized version of it. There is romance and death, there is beauty and there are a lot of descriptions about the lobster trade and how the lobster fishing works. And then there is that war with the neighbors - fueled both by drugs and by the desire for more lobsters.

The novel is inspired by King Lear but it is neither a retelling, nor it is based on it. The patriarch of the family and the three daughters are all there but it does not follow the trajectory of the Bard's tragedy - in a way it is the opposite of it. Woody Kings' way is not to split evenly - instead he gives each daughter what she needs - a house for one, a job for another, a job for a partner when needed. He still dies but without the regrets and bitterness (and even if the daughters are not always best friends, the acrimony and hate of the play are just not there). If one pays attention, they may notice the rest of Lear's cast - they are there, under names similar enough to recognize. And if one expects this to be a Lear retelling, it won't work for them. If I had not read King Lear a few days earlier, I probably would have missed at least half of the nods to it. And that would have been ok.

I liked this novel a lot more than I expected to. The fact that it was not a retelling of the play actually worked for it better than I expected - it allowed the author to allow his characters to get out of the evil/good roles and be just people. It is a novel of a place and a occupation - the people in it were almost unimportant. It did not really matter that there were no real positive characters (even the narrator Cordelia managed to do things that could have landed her in jail...) or that we never hear all the backstories. They fit the story of the island, a story told in the old pictures, in the memories and in the main story. And there is even a hint of magic out there -- how much one wants to believe in it is up to them.

I am not sure if the novel will work for most people - it is definitely not perfect but it is the kind of imperfect that made it work for me. And this positive end that tied all kinds of lose threads without a happy end just added to the weirdness to the novel. In a good way. ( )
1 vote AnnieMod | Feb 18, 2021 |
I really liked this book. It tells the story of a lobster fishing family, their sibling and parental relationships, and even has a little touch of the mystical. Well written, a strong female main character, good dialog.....an enjoyable read. ( )
  Terrie2018 | Feb 21, 2020 |
To be fair - I did not finish this book. Stopped less than half. A REAL BUMMER. WAY TOO DEPRESSING!

Very well written however - just not for me. ( )
  repb | Mar 18, 2019 |
I seem to have an affinity for stories situated in the Maritime provinces, even though I have only ever been to PEI. Something about the simple yet often dangerous way of life and the remoteness from many modern conveniences makes for engrossing stories and fantastic characters.

The setting for this novel is more recent than most I have read, and yet the way of life still retains many aspects that are centuries old. I felt that the characters were well developed and the family relationships rang true. I didn't love the last little bit where things got very intense, but I still loved this novel! ( )
  Rdra1962 | Aug 1, 2018 |
From Amazon: “The Kings family has lived on Loosewood Island, Nova Scotia for three hundred years, blessed with the bounty of the sea. But for the Kings, this blessing comes with a curse: the loss of every first-born son. Now, Woody Kings, the leader of the island’s lobster fishing community and the family patriarch, teeters on the throne, and Cordelia, the oldest of Woody’s three daughters, stands to inherit the crown. To do so, however, she must defend her island against meth dealers from the mainland, while navigating sibling rivalry and the vulnerable nature of her own heart when she falls in love with her sternman. Inspired by Shakespeare’s King Lear, The Lobster Kings is the story of Cordelia’s struggle to maintain her island’s way of life in the face of danger from offshore, and the rich, looming, mythical legacy of her family’s namesake.”

This was excellent Atlantic Canadian literary fiction until it gave way into thriller mode at its climax.

4 stars ( )
  ParadisePorch | Jan 6, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 32 (next | show all)
It bears noting that Zentner displays more talent and controlled craftsmanship in The Lobster Kings than many writers will manage in a career's worth of novels. The scope of his fictional creation, indicative of Canada's ongoing identity struggles in the 21{+s}t century, is as masterfully rendered as one of Brumfitt Kings' paintings. And like those stark paintings that rise up from the pages of the novel to provide Cordelia Kings insight in stepping forward into an untenable future, we can only hope that Zentner's mesmerizing novels will continue to reflect our own psychic discomforts back to us as oddly beautiful deliberations.
 
The Lobster Kings is purported to have been inspired by Shakespeare’s King Lear. In fact, through much of the book I found myself wondering whether Zentner and I had read the same play. (If high-school English feels like a long time ago, the Coles Notes version is that nearly everyone in Lear ends up dead or crazy.) There are drug-addled villains in Zentner’s story. There are dead bodies and severed fingers and a disturbing scene involving a rape. For heaven’s sake, a dog gets shot. But still, this novel does not even scratch the surface of the insanity and darkness in Lear. The references to Shakespeare tend to feel forced....The unnecessarily lofty Shakespeare buttresses do little to conceal Zentner’s storytelling talent, though...One of Zentner’s most marked authorial talents, a skill he has carried from his first novel to his second and will surely continue to grace us with, is the ability to create a place that seems real enough to live in, yet within which there is the possibility of magic that is just believable enough and entirely unbelievable at the same time. This is the sort of magic which reminds us of why the imagination is such a powerful force – stronger even than the ocean, and certainly vaster.
 

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This book is dedicated to all the men and women who work the water.

And to Laurie, Zoey, and Sabine.
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We're named the Kings, and we're the closest thing to royalty on Loosewood Island.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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The Kings family has lived on Loosewood Island for 300 years, and they've been blessed with the bounty of the sea. But for the Kings', every blessing comes with a curse. Woody is the leader of the island's lobster fishing community and the family patriarch. Cordelia, his oldest of three daughters, stands to inherit the crown. To do so, however, she has to fend off meth dealers from the mainland while navigating sibling rivalry and her own heart when she falls in love with her sternman.

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