The Takeaway Book Club: 'The Lobster Kings'

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The fourth book in The Takeaway book club is "The Lobster Kings," the latest novel from Alexi Zenter. Inspired by Shakespeare's "King Lear," the novel follows the story of the Kings family, who settled on Loosewood Island more than 300 years ago and rose to prominence as the reigning lobster-fishing family of the island. 

Though the Kings have prospered off the sea for centuries, they've paid a price, too. A curse hangs over the family, and each generation loses their first-born son to the sea.

With the death of her brother Scotty in a fishing accident, headstrong teenage daughter Cordelia Kings is left to trying to prove to her father that she, and not her sisters, is the true heir to the family legacy—even as the Kings' traditional way of life comes under threat by forces changing the island.  

Linda O'Leary, Carol Turrentine and Jonathan Kern from Middlebrook, Virginia reflect on "The Lobster Kings."  

Guests:

Jonathan Kern, Linda O'Leary and Carol Turrentine

Produced by:

Allie Ferguson and Arwa Gunja

Editors:

T.J. Raphael

Comments [2]

Mary from NYC

I wonder if Ira Glass read this . . .

Sep. 17 2014 03:03 PM
EN Jones

Novel Borrows Heavily from THE FISHER KING by Hayley Kelsey

Alexi Zentner's second novel, after Touch, is set on fictional Loosewood Island, which straddles Maine and Canada, and revolves around a 300-year-old lobster fishing family tradition named Kings: Father Woody, eldest daughter Cordelia, and sisters Rena and Carly. Descendants of painter Brumfitt, inherit a family curse that claims the lives of each generation's first-born son, as occurs when nine-year-old Scotty is swept overboard. Guilty, Cordelia resolves to become an ace lobsterman and avenges off-islanders poaching their waters and smuggling drugs by cutting the enemy's lobster traplines, which culminates in a piratical shoot-out.
The novel seems uninspired by the imagination or felt emotion. The characters lack complexity and their relationships lack dimensionality. Author fails to lay the groundwork for or build to crisis events and instead springs them on the reader, then handily dispenses with them so they don't advance the plot, build suspense, or add character depth. Consequently, they are merely violent descriptions, not climactic.
Presumably the plot revolves around the threats of off-islanders encroaching on island waters and dealing meth, but the author never renders a scene that makes them real to the reader, nor does he provide any evidence that they are, in fact, threats, such as by lost revenue or drug-addled adolescents, so nothing is actually at stake in the novel. One incident merely follows another with no build-up to them, no conflict, and no repercussions. At each opportunity, he robs the reader of the chance to actually experience the story.
The author tries for "Literary Greatness" by tying the novel to KING LEAR, but it falls flat. Instead, the novel seems to borrow heavily from THE FISHER KING, by Hayley Kelsey, published in 2011. In fact, the similarities, both large and small, are striking: title, family surname, plot points, characters, sibling rivalry, character development, setting, themes, and literary allusions (Grail Knight).
But the richly imagined THE FISHER KING is an infinitely better novel. Not only does it ambitiously address such big themes as overfishing in an era of global trade, who's responsible for a commons in a free market economy, the competing interests of stewardship v. inheritance, and what connotes possession by posing such questions as who "owns" the sea: the public or watermen who work it and know it best? But the author makes the political achingly personal in the deeply felt and generously evoked very real lives of characters trapped by circumstances (sometimes of their own making) as pressure from a punishing summer drought mounts on an island community and a family to pit brother against brother, and father against son while the fate of the precarious watershed waits.
The reviewer received an ARC free from the publisher unconditionally based on positive or negative review. The opinions expressed are his own.

May. 26 2014 12:38 PM

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