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The Watery Part of the World Hardcover – April 26, 2011


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books; Complete Numbers Starting with 1, 1st Ed edition (April 26, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1565126823
  • ISBN-13: 978-1565126824
  • Product Dimensions: 0.9 x 6 x 8.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (64 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #938,932 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Parker's affecting fifth novel mines two historical anecdotes from 1813 and 1970 to draw parallel narratives around island dwellers off the North Carolina coast. When a vessel carrying Theodosia, daughter of Vice President Aaron Burr, is attacked by pirates, she's left for dead on Nag's Head island. A parchment-thin hermit nurses her back to health and protects her as she embarks on a new life with a freed slave while still lamenting the loss of her possessions and her past. And in 1970, Woodrow, a black man, and Maggie and Whaley, two white sisters, are the last remaining residents of the same North Carolina island. Woodrow knows the myths that mainlanders have created around the trio's isolation: "They wanted to turn it into... something about how lost the three of them were across the water, all cut off from the rest of the world and turned peculiar because of it." Both sets of island people forge indelible allegiances to each other, linked as they are by blood and water. Parker's (Don't Make Me Stop Now) complex world is stocked with compelling characters brought to life by elegant prose. (Apr.)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Review

i"Parker invokes magic as well as mystery in exploring the ways the past not only haunts the present but in some ways anticipates it. Like Faulkner and O'Connor, Parker creates a place of beauty and complexity which, in the end, one is reluctant to leave...A vividly imagined historical tale of isolated lives."  --Kirkus Reviews
(Washington Post)

“This is a highly readable study of fear, compulsion, and what it means to be trapped. The writing is smoky and beautiful; the lonely island setting is the most compelling character in the story. Against this backdrop, Parker delves into the human heart and distills for his readers the truths found there.”—Library Journal

(Publishers Weekly)

“In a lush feat of historical speculation, Michael Parker imagines that Theo survived a pirate attack off the coast of North Carolina and lived out a long, conflicted life on one of the barrier islands. The Watery Part of the World — that evocative title comes from ­Moby-Dick — is an emotionally acute tale about a brilliant woman of privilege who must suddenly use her wits to avoid dismemberment, rape and starvation… … [Parker] lays out a bewitching triangle of dependent relationships in this inclement Gothic tale.” --Washington Post
(Los Angeles Times)

"Parker's complex world is stocked with compelling characters brought to life by elegant prose." --Publishers Weekly

(People Magazine)

“A remarkable story… The entire novel has a blue-green, underwater feel, a timeless forgetfulness.”—Los Angeles Times


“Parker slices open each isolated life with humor and gentleness, and the familiar battles with loss and loneliness he chronicles makes even this remotest of locations feel close to home.”—People


“Parker slices open each isolated life with humor and gentleness, and the familiar battles with loss and loneliness he chronicles make even this remotest of locations feel close to home.”
People, 4-star review


“I found The Watery Part of the World all but impossible to put down . . . This elegantly written tale reflects on the nature of race, love, regret, dependence, fear, sorrow, honor and envy—the eternal challenges of being human. The characters, even the minor ones, are fully formed, the setting is so vividly described that you feel you know it intimately, and Parker’s writing is purely wonderful.” —Nancy Pearl, NPR.org


“A lush feat of historical speculation . . . Disparate parts—pirates and aristocrats in one century; elderly ladies and their handyman in another . . . But Parker has managed to stir them together in a vivid tale about the tenacity of habit and the odd relationships that form in very small, difficult places.”
The Washington Post




“A remarkable story . . . The entire novel has a blue-green, underwater feel, a timeless forgetfulness.”
Los Angeles Times

More About the Author

MICHAEL PARKER is the author of five novels - Hello Down There, Towns Without Rivers, Virginia Lovers, If You Want Me To Stay, The Watery Part of the World and two collections of stories, The Geographical Cure and Don't Make Me Stop Now. His fiction and nonfiction have appeared in various journals including Five Points, the Georgia Review, The Idaho Review, the Washington Post, the New York Times Magazine, Oxford American, Shenandoah, The Black Warrior Review, Trail Runner and Runner's World. He has received fellowships in fiction from the North Carolina Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as the Hobson Award for Arts and Letters, and the North Carolina Award for Literature. His work has been anthologized in the Pushcart, New Stories from the South and O. Henry Prize Stories anthologies. A graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill and the University of Virginia, he is a Professor in the MFA Writing Program at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Visit his website at www.michaelfparker.com

Customer Reviews

Characters were not very likeable.
E J Condit
I found the book very confusing at the beginning switching back and forth between the centuries.
Georgia L
Parker's prose is outstanding; his sentences have the rhythmic quality of sweet soul music.
Dock Ellis

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 24 people found the following review helpful By j snow on May 12, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Never turn your back on the sea: an old adage about the unpredictability, mutability, and overwhelming suddenness of the ocean. Invariably, there will be tourists who don't take heed. One could say the same about the heart. The sea and love make and unmake you; they are at once necessary and have the power, as Michael Parker puts it, to "get away with you." Parker has written a beautiful, elegant novel about islanders who experience the vicissitudes and blessings of hard-earned belonging, and who withstand - sometimes admirably, sometimes not -- the losses to which we are born.

The narrative of Theodosia Burr Alston and Whaley is especially absorbing. Her survival on the island depends on the surrender of nothing less than her seemingly indelible identity; her endurance is possible because of an unadorned love that no one, especially not she, could have imagined would wash ashore. Theodosia's life is a remarkable trajectory and Parker tells her story deftly and, thankfully, without sentimentality. We need stories of (physical and emotional) survival told with honesty and compassion like this. They are the literary coordinates for our own emotional lives and too often we are insulted with the abundance of tales that offer us romance and all its overdetermined scaffolding when we'd rather have the starkness of genuine love, trust and need.

There are some minor missteps - or rather, near missteps. The historical figure of Virginia Dare, which Maggie and Miss Whaley -- both lonely children in their respective ways -- use for imaginative inspiration, seems a bit smuggled in.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Curmudgeonly Doc on July 26, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Disappointed after reading reviews--boo to NPR.
Parallel stories 150 years apart, in the same place, same families, similar white/black relations. Hardly a new narrative device, necessary to avoid climax/denouement of one story way ahead of the other, if you're going chronologically.
No matter, the main problem is the modern story, which took up ? 2/3 of the book (felt like a lot more). It was boring and predictable, none of the characters were well developed or particularly interesting, although one had to feel for the modern (well 60's or whenever it was) black man's dilemma.
The earlier story, an imagined survival of Aaron Burr's daughter, was much more interesting and appealing, but her story was too brief, and too much was left untold/unresolved.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By just a reader on May 16, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
First, let me say, that I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The prose was beautifully written, smooth as butter and a joy to read. Parker obviously knows what he's doing here. And the intertwining stories were equally engaging. I'm not always a fan of parallel storylines, but in this case they were expertly done, and it felt like the right way to tell these stories. I would recommend this book to anyone, as it was not only emotionally engaging on a plot level, but also a work of art on a sentence by sentence level.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Philly gal VINE VOICE on July 18, 2011
Format: Hardcover
To my mind, this story brimmed with possibility. It promised a story spanning the time period of 1800 to present day on an Outer Bank Island. Taking the life of Theodosia Burr, daughter of Aaron Burr who was lost off the Outer Banks and never again heard from, the author postulates that she survived tragedy at sea and built a life and had a family on the fictional island of Yaupon. In a parallel story 150 years later, two white women descendents of Burr live out the last days on the island with a black man, also a long time island resident. They are the only inhabitants of the island.
The story in the 1800s has lots of color. In the fictional account Burr is saved from a pirate attack because the pirate captain is convinced she is mad "touched by God". Burr had been extremely well educated by her father and was thought to be the most well educated woman in the US at that time. Then she falls into a world where foraging for shipwrecked cargo is a more valued skill that reciting Shakespeare. Despite this she adapts and thrives on this island. She meets a former pirate and falls in love with him. Her strong will to live allows her to make a life for herself and her offspring on this island. She is a memorable character.
The 1950s story of the island residents, the two white sisters Whaley and Maggie, and Woodrow a black man descendent from a free African is really quite strange and hard to relate to. Talk about lives of quiet desperation, Thoreau must have had this crew in mind with that phrase. The elder sister Whaley, the more eccentric of the two is devoted to preserving her interpretation of the island's history. Each year they are visited by anthropologists (called the Taperecorders).
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Trina on May 19, 2011
Format: Hardcover
The Watery Part of the World is an exquisitely written novel of home -- the home in this case is the isolated islands of the Outer Banks of the North Carolina coast. Although there is a plot that moves the story along, I felt most attached to the characters' longing for this watery sandy place. The very individual characters beautifully real with faults and eccentricities, and although all the characters are somewhat enigmatic, I found myself rooting for each one. There is mystery in this novel -- the unknowable other person, a place profoundly changed that will never be seen again, and above all the indeterminate nature of life itself. I am inspired by this loving but complex view of life and landscape.
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