Oh, to be in the hands of a master storyteller. That is where I spent a recent weekend, reading Edwidge Dandicat’s “Claire of the Sea Light.”
Set in the author’s native Haiti, this contemporary novel begins with Claire at seven, visiting her mother’s grave on her own birthday. Her mother died giving birth to Claire, and so this day establishes the pattern of the story, life and death side by side. Eventually her father makes the difficult decision to give Claire up to a woman in town, and that is when Claire disappears.
It is also when Dandicat’s storytelling genius emerges, backing away from the intensity of the disappearance, using each of the next six chapters to tell the story of someone whose life connects eventually to Claire. After that series of flashbacks, the story returns to Claire herself.
Dandicat’s writing includes just what it needs to, homing in on the most important details, elegantly including just what is needed, and almost nothing more.
When I started this book I knew it was about a girl’s disappearance, and I worried that it would be too dark, too intense, and too hopeless. Without stooping to cheap hopefulness, Dandicat weaves in the sea light of Claire’s name. Hope is not too bright, and despair not too dark, when they remain so close to each other.
I’ll recommend this to people who love a good story, well told. No wonder it’s on the American Library Association Notable Books List.