The Lobster Kings by Alexi Zentner


Having admired Touch by this author, I was eager to read this one. It is an action-packed tale of a lobster-fishing dynasty on a small island, founded by the much-mentioned Brumfitt Kings, who had arrived on Loosewood Island 200 years earlier. Brumfitt was an artist as well as a fisherman and a well-known one; tourists come to the island to visit the scenes he painted.

The narrator is Cordelia, and yes, her father was the current head of the dynasty and she did have two sisters. Their mother had prevailed over Woody on the names of the two sisters so they were not Goneril and Regan. Cordelia is the favorite and is always struggling to be sure she becomes the head of the family when Woody dies.

Like Touch this tale has many references to the fantastical, notably that Brumfitt’s wife was said to have arisen from the sea. She was said to be a selkie, a shape-shifter: a seal in the water, a human on land. Cordelia heard stories from childhood from her father about Brumfitt and his wife who “materialized from the ocean with a dowry of bounty and doom.” The theme of the water’s largess and menace recurs throughout.

The current day struggles included maintaining control of the Loosewood Island lobster territory, challenged by a larger community called James Harbor which has descended into meth-making and distributing. Woody had dealt with the problem with a bit of well-placed violence years earlier, but the new generation was promising to be a bigger problem. Cordelia is eager to prove herself capable of dealing with it.

Zentner paints the picture of the tight community, difficult for newcomers to penetrate. When trouble arises, they are there for each other. There is much description of lobstering and fishing boat management. I found the dialog and exposition of the plot to be the awkward part of the book. An extended description of the night a storm nearly killed everyone on the boat, followed by the description a few days later of gunplay on the water were exhausting.

Alexi Zentner, The Lobster Kings, W.W. Norton, 2014, 352 pages (I read the kindle version). Available at the UVa library and through Amazon.

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