Monthly Archives: August 2019

Loss and Norms in Seanen McGuire’s “One Salt Sea”

[Spoilers the size of a Knowe–seriously, I talk about a major character death]

Years ago, my spouse was reading the October Daye series by Seanen McGuire and highly recommended it.  At least a decade later, I’m hooked. I’m actually grateful that I waited until this particular year to read them, as they’ve been fantastic to read while processing my own thoughts and emotions about death, loss, and change. Death and other loss is quite common in these books, which I appreciate. It makes the plots gripping and keeps me on the edge of my seat. These books are about various fairy cultures, which allows for a cross-cultural comparison. October is a detective.

One Salt Sea was particularly compelling to me, as October suffers two great losses at the same time. One is the death of her boyfriend, Connor, who is a Selkie. Grieving and bedridden October reflects on the norms of her culture: 

They called my phone and they showed up at my door, they sent pixies and rose goblins and a dozen other stranger forms of messenger, they delivered casseroles and cakes—like calories were somehow the answer to the ills of mortality? Who the hell decided that made sense? And none of it did a thrice cursed thing… (342).

Another character, the Luidaeg, one of the most powerful and mysterious, shows up at October’s house and gets her out of bed. They go to take Connor’s seal skin back to his family.  (The seal skin allowed them to transform from human to seal and back.) October notes the differences in how pureblood fairy culture differs from the Selkie culture:

Purebloods don’t have funerals, but they do have wakes—sedate, structured things, meant to tie off loose ends rather than to allow for public mourning.  The Selkies must have missed that memo…Some of them wept as unreservedly as Diva.  Others laughed or sawed away on their fiddles, filling the air with jigs and reels that had some people dancing, despite the nature of the occasion (349).

October is introduced to many members of Connor’s family, and she feels that these tears were “good tears, because everyone in the house understood them” (349). I loved this exploration of the authentic expression of grief and how sharing with others who also understand the loss can lead to deep connection. Culture shapes our expression of emotion, as well as the suppression of emotion.

At the end of the book, the Luidaeg explains her own tragic story while they stand at the edge of the ocean. But she explains to October that we have to go on living for those counting on us, as well as for those that died. We help others with their loss, as they help us with ours. The Luidaeg and October share tears and silence.  And the last words of the book are “everything changes.” This is a painful lesson that comes to people at difference paces due to their particular life experiences, and it helps when authors share their characters’ range of  emotions in response to loss. Reading both fictional and nonfictional accounts of grief helps, at least for me. One of my favorite aspects of  writing is that the words one person writes may be a balm for someone many years, even centuries later.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Fantasy, Sociology