The Following Sea by Marcel Jolley (A Review)

By C.A. LaRue

Jolley-Cover-The-Following-Sea-250x380

Black Lawrence Press

150 pgs. | $16.00


 

The dreary off-season in a sleepy Alaskan borough just got ten times more interesting as its Native American chief of police Joseph Merickel is called to the scene of a brutal murder. That the victim is his long-time friend and the town darling makes it all that more imperative that he run down her killer as quickly as possible.

Good money is on the boyfriend who has conveniently disappeared along with a Norwegian fishing boat named The Following Sea. As Merickel progresses through his investigation, layers are peeled away that expose underlying social problems in the sun-short community.

Having grown up in and around Skagway himself, Jolley is able to paint a masterful portrait of a region that is often overlooked in modern fiction. His prose is taut and tinged with a deepening pathos that gives the landscape just enough space to take on breath without overstraining its novella container.

Truthfully, I am awed by the amount of emotion he is able to pack into the simple descriptive paragraph. For example, this tidbit before his children’s school performance: 

Skagway’s last entertainment of the moving variety had come three years earlier, a summer carnival boasting a big top the south wind almost carried away and the town’s first elephant. People snatched up five-dollar tickets and sat through clumsy jugglers and a pasty contortionist to watch the beast forego its regular act and rear up for a two-minute fire-hydrant piss. This set the standard for traveling shows very high.

Or this passage relaying Merickel’s view from the ferry terminal:

The Burro Creek fish hatchery lay visible across the bay but beyond that the clouds and inlet melted into bruised greys and blues. A nearby viaduct pumped a thick vein of brown runoff, and the river and streams ran bloated to a point that demanded notice. All of this was standard for fall, but even a boxer fully aware of having been beaten up the night before is still startled at the first reflection of his swollen face.

These are not then the type of paragraphs you would find in longer, commercial mystery narratives. Nor would the tone be sustainable under that intense pressure of plot. This is a deep dive into the troubled Northern psyche for which Jolley has become known (at least in Pacific Northwestern circles) and credited with as if it were almost a superpower.

While I would not go that far, I will admit that he is certainly a very talented writer who has closely observed the pressures of southeastern Alaska firsthand and has managed to capture it in all its beautiful, rain-soaked sorrowfulness both here and in his two previous collections with Black Lawrence Press.

Sadly, some readers will miss out on the full experience by not becoming more familiar with the setting’s extensive Native American heritage. For instance, one might not be aware that the title of the novella is not just a boat’s moniker, but also a play on the very name of the borough.

“Skagway,” for those in the know, is 1) a corruption of the Tlingit word for the stone woman who stands in the bay and channels the strong northern winds that blow through the region, and 2) the word used to refer to the rough seas that follow these winds.

Such are the goodies that await the curious in this fine work from a gifted, young fiction writer. Highly recommended.

C.A. LaRue is a writer/artist working out of New Orleans. She studied creative writing at Hollins University and holds a B.S. from the University of New Orleans. She is a registered member of the Tlingit Nation of Alaska with recent work in Foliate OakDeep South MagazineThe Review Reviewand Ardor Literary Magazine. Find her at http://bonesparkblog.wordpress.com/ or on twitter@bonesparkblog.

 

 

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