This is a rather odd sort of book, but the dreamy quality of the main narrative fits it perfectly. Small towns are notorious for being strange, but the location for The Art of Floating is stranger than most, and this is reflected not only in the mood of the book, but also in the way it and its chapters are structured: sometimes a chapter moves the story along by telling another part of the main story, and sometimes it just pulls out snippets of what’s being said, in order to add depth. We hear not only the voices of the main characters, but also follow the development of the skipping rhyme the local girls invent in response to Sia’s story, and get to read the inspirational quotes (rarely biblical) posted anew outside the local church each week.
Odyssia Dane, Sia to most people, is the daughter of a rather eccentric mother who gave birth as a teenager, but is still very much in love with her husband and devoted to her daughter. Sia, meanwhile, still hasn’t got over the loss of her husband of nine years, Jackson, who went out to get coffee the previous spring and never came back. Sia’s grief is all-encompassing: she didn’t leave the house for the first few months of her loss, and is completely incapable of writing anything when the book starts. Before her loss, she was a successful author, who loved making lists – as did Jackson, whose main job was taking care of the rare plovers who nested on the beaches close to their home.
The plovers are a big point of contention in the town, dividing its inhabitants into those who want to protect the birds by keeping the beaches closed all spring, and those who want the beaches open so badly that they are consumed by hate for the birds. Then Sia finds a different kind of rare creature, and by caring for him she both opens up the town to an invasion of outsiders, and begins to make friends with some unlikely characters closer to home.
Toad, the silent man that Sia finds on the beach and names because naming things is what she does, becomes a media sensation. Sia and her allies want to tell the world about him in order to reunite him with his family – who must be experiencing the same feelings of loss as Sia does for Jackson – but they resent the intrusion of the media circus who descend on Sia’s house and follow her and Toad wherever they go.
Sia’s quest to find out Toad’s identity brings her into contact with the Dogcatcher, a homeless woman who collects lost things, along with notices about missing pets, and through this strange acquaintanceship begins to piece together what might have happened on the morning that Jackson disappeared.
I love this book, although it doesn’t quite feel complete. Maybe that is the author’s intention; these characters and their home almost exist in a place outside time, just beyond our own world. I definitely want to read it again to pick up on nuances I may have missed the first time around.
[Ed. Berkley is graciously offering a copy of The Art of Floating to one lucky commenter today. Leave a meaningful comment or question and we’ll put you in the running! U.S. and Canada only, please.]
At a time when nothing seems real,
it takes something truly unusual to put your life into focus.
When her beloved husband Jackson disappeared without a trace, popular novelist Sia Dane stopped writing, closed down her house, stuffed her heart into a cage, and started floating. It wasn’t the normal response to heartache, but Sia rarely did things the normal way.
Exactly one year, one month, and six days after Jackson’s disappearance, Sia discovers a mysterious man on the beach. He’s mute, unresponsive, and looks as if he has just walked out of the sea. It’s the sort of situation Jackson would have solved with a simple call to the police. But Jackson is gone.
As unreal as he seems, Sia is determined to help this man. Perhaps she can return him to his place in the world—to whoever lost him and loves him. Perhaps she can answer their questions the way no one could answer hers.
But as her friends and family help her winnow her way to the truth, Sia comes to realize that the unfathomable leap between sorrow and healing begins with a single step.
Read an excerpt.