Flawed fishing family’s tale resonates
FROM the very first page of Alexi Zentner’s second novel, The Lobster Kings, it is evident that the author is no onehit wonder. This new work of literary fiction is as compelling, touching and beautifully written as his debut, the Governor General Literary Award-nominated novel Touch. As in that earlier work, this book recounts the past and the present of one particular family and one particular community. The family is the Kings, and the community the fictional Loosewood Island, straddling Canada and the U.S. off the Maritime coast. (Zentner, interestingly, is from Ontario but currently lives in New York.) The Kings have been the unofficial rulers of the island since their ancestor, Brumfitt Kings, landed there 300 years before. All of the lobster Kings are deeply human and deeply flawed. They have consistently made their living from lobster fishing, and although it has been a lucrative living, it has come at a terrible price. That price is always foremost on the minds of Woody Kings and his eldest daughter Cordelia, named by her theatre-loving father in homage to Shakespeare’s King Lear. Cordelia is the story’s narrator and protagonist. Drawn to the ocean and to the lure of lobster fishing since she was a child, Cordelia has spent years trying to convince her father that she is the rightful heir to his water-bound kingdom. As she confesses, “I never wanted to do anything other than live here and walk the same beaches and paths... and, girl or not, to head to sea to work like Daddy and his daddy before him, and so on and so forth all the way back to Brumfitt Kings, Kings of the ocean, lobster Kings.” It is this ambition, alternately admirable and lethal, that is at the heart of the story that Cordelia tells. It motivates her every deed, defines all of her relationships, and puts her at constant odds with her two younger sisters. It makes her stubborn, strong and impetuous, and it is the reason that she so often ends up cutting corners and putting those she cares about in danger. This tendency to endanger others is especially evident in a sub-plot that revolves around lobster poachers and drug smugglers encroaching on Loosewood’s waters.
Ironically, that storyline, although replete with mystery, murder and mayhem on the high seas, is the weakest part of this wonderful novel. The best sections of The Lobster Kings are those that look at Cordelia’s relationship with her beloved father and wounded sisters. The dialogue they share is pitchperfect, and the warmth and affection, envy and resentment with which they treat one another is impeccably drawn. Cordelia, the devoted daughter and islander desperate to hang on to the people and place that she loves, is the most imperfect of them all. It’s that imperfection that makes her and the story she narrates such a captivating read.
Sharon Chisvin is a Winnipeg writer.
The Lobster Kings Alexi Zentner Knopf Canada, 336 pages, $30