Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Rathbones, by Janice Clark

This is a fable about man and nature and the good (mostly) that can come from a harmonious relationship between the two, and the devastation that can come when man pits himself against nature either out of hubris or greed.  The central characters are cousins, Mercy and Mordecai Rathbone, who spend most of the book sailing among the islands off the New England coast looking for Mercy's father and brother and perhaps a whale or two, but finding instead the tragic and twisted history of the Rathbone family.  The Rathbone progenitor is Moses, a man with a supernatural affinity for the sea and its creatures.  When his family and neighbors are destroyed during an annual whale hunt because of inadequate manpower for the job, Moses decides to breed his own fishing fleet crew with the unwilling participation of 17 stolen brides.  Moses's single-mindedness means that the brides must be discarded when they wear out from incessant childbirth and the girl children must be "thrown back."  Everything goes as planned and the family becomes crazily rich, until Moses's favorite son, Bow-Oar, opts for love, monogamy and letting his girls survive.  This unfortunately leads to rampant incest and the genetic destruction of the family, and the family's slaughter of whales enough to fill their ships leads to the end of local whale pods.  Mercy, tiny but whole, is the daughter of one of Moses's granddaughters and one of his grandsons (or great grandsons) and in possession of the family gift for understanding the sea.  Not for everybody, but kind of fascinating in its way.

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