The Odd Sea

Frederick Reiken, Author
Frederick Reiken, Author Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) $22 (208p) ISBN 978-0-15-100360-0
Reviewed on: 06/01/1998
Release date: 06/01/1998
Paperback - 224 pages - 978-0-385-33338-2
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Describing his elder brother's disappearance, Philip Shumway, the adolescent narrator of Reiken's carefully crafted debut, observes: ""There was no story except for the puzzling absence of a story."" Ethan Shumway, Philip's idolized, musically gifted 16-year-old brother, simply walked out one spring day into the western Massachusetts woods, and no one heard from him again. This ""non-story"" sucks Philip, his parents and three sisters into its indefinite possibilities (which the youngest sister calls the ""Odd Sea"" in a child's unwitting pun on the epic of travel and absence). If this is an ambiguous MacGuffin for a novel of family life and growing up, Reiken aptly balances his narrative between the Shumways' various expressions of grief and obsession and their different means of continuing with their lives. Philip's mother fares the worst (she is hospitalized for depression), and his father shakes up the family business by switching from standard carpentry to the throwback craft of timber-frame construction. Philip goes through adolescence searching clumsily for clues to Ethan's character that would explain his vanishing, until he finds, instead, what it means for his own life. The possibilities surrounding Ethan's fate prove less important than the revelations about his high-school romance with his girlfriend, a budding painter, or his relationship with an older woman who served as his artistic mentor. If Reiken's characters have only so much range on their own, he proficiently arranges the family dynamics around a central, insoluble tragedy with the New England hill country as a well-rendered backdrop. (June) FYI: The Odd Sea won the 1997 Hackney Award for First Novel.
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