three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
10-May-June-2004
By: 
Jane Alison
user_rating: 
0

A-MarriageSeaThis novel watches, over the course of a year, a modern "tribe" of characters ranging from intimate friends to professional acquaintances. Residing mainly in the water-dominated cities of Venice and New Orleans, the eight central characters continually reinvent themselves and their relationships. They chase love, betray their hopes, and produce art. Alison's short chapters and experimental style highlight themes of renewal and decay. Reflected by the artistic endeavors of her cast, these motifs, linked by water, create a plot of philosophical and poetic decadence.
Farrar, Straus & Giroux. 262 pages. $24.

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"Although I was keenly interested in the characters and their relationships, I was even more interested in the characters' relationships with their surrounds, past and present. ... The most lasting union of The Marriage of the Sea is not, finally, between any of the characters but between them and the evanescent, seductive, heartless world they are seeking with such ardent specificity to inhabit -- and sometimes to leave." Margot Livesey

SF Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"The ebbing and flowing of the characters' overlapping jealousies, acquaintanceships and relationships form an intricate pattern, not unlike that of ocean waves, in which one swell gives way to and shapes another. Alison's exploration of the impermanence of human life make[s] The Marriage of the Sea a dreamlike, gorgeously watery novel." Kate Washington

South Florida Sun-Sentinel 3.5 of 5 Stars
"It is to the author's credit that she has written a richly textured story of relationships between flawed individuals, yet she never makes the imagery of her theme contrived." Myrna Lippman

Dallas Morning News 2.5 of 5 Stars
"At the novel's end, it is the evocation of the cities, New Orleans and Venice, that lingers. ... It's as if Ms. Alison lavished all her descriptive powers on the cities. The characters remain as indistinct as reflections on the surface of a murky pond." Shawna Seed

Washington Post 2.5 of 5 Stars
"[Alison's] prose, often lush and evocative, manages to convey mood and interior life without filling us in on details of plot personal history. ... In the end the book does not quite satisfy. But Jane Alison certainly is a writer to watch." Robert Girardi

Critical Summary

Alison's debut book, The Love Artist, was an interpretation of the demise of Ovid that was lauded for its fine detail and grace. Here, Alison applies her interests in history and excavation in a different manner, using the metaphor of "the sea" to uncover truths about her characters. Reviewers complained that Alison's gorgeous flair (and attentiveness) for the small details sometimes left the reader with too little information about the characters' motivations. Critics praised her talents with form, metaphor, and poetic language.