Friday, April 22, 2011

Light Years: A Girlhood in Hawaii by Susanna Moore

Susanna Moore paints compelling pictures with words. She begins her chronicle with "No memory presents itself of my first acquaintance with the sea. It was always there, and I was always in it." What I soon discovered was that the pictures she paints are not so much of herself, but of the place she happened to be at the time, the oceans that surrounded it, and the books that kept her company.
Moore employs an bizarre arrangement for this book. Following each brief chapter is at least an equal number of pages filled with excerpts from classic stories of the sea, the regular companions of her youth. In her first chapter she says "One summer when my mother was recovering from a breakdown, we lived on the beach..." but never goes into any detail. Later she writes "I was overcome by the idea of shipwreck. I suspect the unconscious was doing its work. My family, while high-strung, was not a shipwreck quite yet, but I divined its coming." I battled through twenty pages of shipwreck tales from Daniel Defoe and John Fiske, anxious to get back to Susanna's own story, only to find that it never really happens.
Although I came away with a very beautiful picture of Hawaii, the "ravishing little world...redolent with romance" but also "an hierarchical, snobbish and quietly racist society," my depiction of the author remained unclear, and each chapter left me wanting more.

3 Stars

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