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Claire of the Sea Light
256 pp., $25.95
For Edwidge Danticat, words are more than the building blocks of stories, pegs on which to hang meaning. Danticat is a writer who seems keenly conscious of the power of words. Through them, the writer creates a world, names reality, and shapes it. Words, in Danticat's hands, are life.
I suppose that sounds like a ridiculous thing to say about a writer, since all we have to trade in is words. Yet in the headlong rush of world-construction and story-craft, prose writers can lose their attention to sentences and specifics. We get lost in the big picture, wrangling our narrative threads and taming them so they do our bidding, so they settle down and play nicely together.
Danticat, by contrast, exhibits a poet's attention to language. In her newest novel, Claire of the Sea Light, one gets the sense that she has gently traversed her sentences many times, turning each phrase over like a pearly, scalloped shell, arranging and rearranging them in careful rows. The result is marvelous, enviable from the start:
The morning Claire Limyè Lanmè Faustin turned seven, a freak wave, measuring between ten and twelve feet high, was seen in the ocean outside of Ville Rose. Claire's father, Nozias, a fisherman, was one of many who saw it in the distance as he walked toward his sloop. He first heard a low rumbling, like that of distant thunder, then saw a wall of water rise from the depths of the ocean, a giant blue-green tongue, trying, it seemed, to lick a pink sky.
Just as quickly as it had swelled, the wave cracked. Its barrel collapsed, pummeling a cutter called Fifine, sinking it and Caleb, the sole fisherman onboard.
Danticat's talent doesn't stop at the sentence level, though: she can also handle the big narrative threads, making books that hook the reader and don't let go. Critics and readers alike praise her fiction and nonfiction (both her novel Krik? Krak! and her memoir, Brother, I'm Dying, were nominated for the National Book Award, and her first novel, Breath, Eyes, ...