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Book Review: The Mercy of the Tide

G D Penman By G D Penman Published on January 20, 2017

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This article was updated on April 4, 2017

When reviewing a book I tend to focus more on the story than the style. If something is written in a clever enough manner then I will give credit where it is due, but most of my focus is less on the craft of writing, which anyone can learn given long enough, and more on the ideas and plot that are revealed in the work. In the case of The Mercy of The Tide, that is not possible. The author’s voice is integral to the story and setting of the book. I have seen Rosson’s writing compared, favourably to Steven King’s and it is easy to see why; they share the same focus on American life and the voice that they adopt to speak about the issues that concern them are intrinsically tied to that.

Like any book with a strong voice, it takes a few pages to fall into Rosson’s flow, but once you are there, it carries you out to sea. In most cases I would describe a book like this as a mash-up of different genres, but through that singular cohesive voice, the lines between the different elements blur together until we are left with something new and unique. Unique is not a word that I use lightly; ever story that has ever been told can be viewed as a reinterpretation of ones that the creator has heard themselves, with the only variation being the presentation. Through the presentation of The Mercy of the Tide, the inspirations and influences that have shaped its plot are blended in the same way.

Small town America - the unique culture, personality and madness of those insular but familial communities - appears throughout the story, and by the time that anything out of the ordinary arrives you are almost inured to it by the gradual build-up of the regular strains of strangeness found there.

The gradual pacing of the book’s early chapters introduces the relevant players through their emotional connections more than their place in the community and that emotional connection is the strongest draw that the book has to offer, there are mysteries and dramas all around, but it is the characters that keep you coming back to The Mercy of the Tide.

There is a sense of inevitability hanging over the whole story, tied into the dread of nuclear war that permeated the time-period. It is that inevitability that the title describes, the crushing weight of events completely outside of the character’s control that they nonetheless must weather. Suffering and growth come in waves; layered character development draws fully fledged personalities out of the brief glimpses that the first chapters grant you.

The element of the plot that I most enjoyed is so integral to the climax of the story that just discussing it risks spoiling the whole thing; but it is safe to say there were many ways that the story could have resolved, and I appreciate that the obvious options were ignored. The climax is not satisfying, with the threat of doom still hanging over everyone, but the exploration of the characters is complete and that was always the purpose of the book.

G.D. Penman writes about queer monsters for a living. He is the author of Call Your Steel, The Year of the Knife, Heart of Winter, Apocrypha and many other books. He is also a full-time freelance ... Show More

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