The Story of Land and Sea is a historical novel written by Katy Simpson Smith and it was published in 2014. Katy has a PhD in history and it shows here. I really enjoy historical fiction but I almost never read stories set during the American Revolution so I was really excited about this one, plus Sweet Boyfriend’s Mom gave me this book as a gift, which is always a good thing.
The Story of Land and Sea is the story of a family in a small North Carolina coastal town during the American Revolution. The novel moves back and forth in time and opens with John and Tabitha, a single father and his daughter, who is his world. Tab loves her father and loves more his stories about her mother, who died giving birth to her, especially their time at sea. John and Helen married and spent their first months together on a pirate ship but moved inland to give birth to and raise Tab. Tab has inherited John and Helen’s love of the water, spending most of her time roaming around the marshes and on the beach. John has always mistrusted himself on dry land, never able to get over Helen’s death. So, when Tab falls ill with yellow fever, John decides to take her aboard a ship, confident that the water and ocean air will cure her of an almost always fatal disease.
Like her daughter, Helen was raised by a single father, Asa, after her own mother died in childbirth. This being the American Revolution and all, Helen is gifted a slave girl, Moll, for her 10th birthday. Helen and Moll obviously do not have an equal relationship but there is a trust and caring between them that is difficult to describe; Helen would claim it as friendship but Moll probably would not. Helen grows into a strong young woman and is Asa’s only child. Though she is not a son, Asa teaches Helen everything there is to know about his turpentine empire and fully expects that she will take over the business, and for most of her life Helen believes the same thing. Until she falls in love. When Helen falls in love with John, she leaves behind her whole life, and Asa’s dreams of passing on his empire are crushed. Asa cannot forgive John for taking away his daughter. And when she dies, forgiving John is impossible. There are additional plot points joining Moll’s family and Asa and John’s but to reveal them would be a mistake.
I enjoyed this novel for how real it felt. I mentioned that the author is a PhD in history and you can really tell in her writing that she knows this time period so well. The pace of the novel is quite slow and yet I wasn’t ever bored. It felt the way life feels – big things happen and then you have to find a way to live with them. My favorite parts of the novel are when the spotlight is on Moll – she is a complex and well-drawn character. I think this is a story that is probably not for everyone, the subject matter and pace are likely too slow for a lot of readers. But, if you like historical fiction and are a fan of this time period, you should give The Story of Land and Sea a chance.