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Claire of the Sea Light

Claire of the Sea Light - Edwidge Danticat

I do love the way Edwidge Danticat writes. This book is full of lovely passages but never feels overwritten. You never get the idea that Danticat is trying too hard; this is just the way she expresses herself. The book feels effortless, and yet it's hard to find a page without a memorable, evocative paragraph.


For example:


It was so hot in Ville Rose that year that dozens of frogs exploded. These frogs frightened not just the children who chased them into the rivers and creeks at dusk, or the parents who hastily pried the slimy carcasses from their young ones' fingers, but also twenty-five-year-old Gaelle, who was more than six months pregnant and feared that, should the temperature continue to rise, she too might burst. The frogs had been dying for a few weeks, but Gaelle hadn't noticed at first. They'd been dying so quietly that for each one that had expired, another had taken its place along the gulch near her house, each one looking exactly the same and fooling her, among others, into thinking that a normal cycle was occurring, that young was replacing old, and life replacing death, sometimes slowly and sometimes quickly. Just as it was for everything else.


(I defy you to find a more elegant paragraph about exploding frogs.)


And yet, much like Colum McCann's Transatlantic, all of the gorgeous words don't seem to add up to much. Danticat does a wonderful job of creating her setting--Ville Rose, a small village in Haiti--but she doesn't seem to do a lot with it. Claire of the Sea Light is less a novel than a series of connected short stories, so we meet many of Ville Rose's inhabitants. But most of the characters, with the exception of Nozias, lack depth.


The book's milieu is intriguing, but the themes are slight. And--again like Transatlantic--the stories don't come together at the end in a satisfying way. I don't need everything to wrap up neatly--that would be far too artificial--but I do want to feel at the end that every character's story was vital to the larger themes of the book. And I didn't get that here. Instead, as I finished the last page, I just felt wistful for the book this could have been if Danticat had plumbed the depths of her characters and their village just a bit more.