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Tuesday
Sep012009

1989

Spartina

By John Casey

Original Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
Current Publisher:
Vintage Books (Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group)

Harold Augenbraum writes:

When I first read Spartina, in 1990, just after it won the National Book Award, it was the first book I had ever read specifically because it won the Award, and I thought it was about the sea, men and boats and all that. But now that I’ve read it again, when I’m middle-aged and have children of my own, I actually think it’s about something else. It’s about love, love of the sea, love of one’s heritage, love of one’s parents, of one’s children, of one’s spouse, despite all the mistakes, the inability to contain intimacy, the absurdity of the quotidian. And the climactic moment—when the protagonist (and, in this case, agon assumes special meaning) fights the sea’s natural power to bring his dream-boat (and that’s a term I use advisedly in this case) through the perfect storm, triumphing where so much was a failure, for the first time all this emotion, pent-up and surprised, leaking into the atmosphere around him, seems like optimism, like something you never noticed before, beach grass that was always there on the edge of where you were going but didn’t see until you walked out the door onto the sand after a refreshing shower and it was clicketing in the sea breeze like it always was but you never noticed it. It’s a happy-ish book, about living with loss and anticipating the future, in which dreams co-exist as experience, and love, so often deferred, limps along beside you, without ever leaving you bereft.

Harold Augenbraum is Executive Director of the National Book Foundation, an editor and translator.


ISBN: 9780375702686

Fiction Finalists that Year:

  • E.L. Doctorow for Billy Bathgate
  • Katherine Dunn for Geek Love
  • Oscar Hijuelos for Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love
  • Amy Tan for The Joy Luck Club

Fiction Judges that Year: Not available

The Year in Literature:

  • Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
  • Camilo José Cela won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

More Information:

  • John Casey’s first two published works were a novel, American Romance (1977), and a collection of stories, Testimony and Demeanor (1979).
  • His second novel, Spartina (which is a kind of marsh grass), is, as New York Times reviewer Susan Kenney says, “a tale of a man and his boat, the sea and the voyage toward self-discovery.”

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