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by Nick Arvin
Sea Creatures is Susanna Daniel’s second novel, and it has been called “a gorgeous story that spans the full experiential spectrum of romantic and parental love, artistic impulse, betrayal, sacrifice, and redemption.” And it has been described as “a rich, languid read. When you’re done savoring the last page, you too will want to take a dip in warm salty water, lie in the sun, and ponder the care you give your loved ones and the limits of your own safe harbor.” I would add that it struck me as a book that is unusually fearless and rich with wisdom and complicated humanity.
It is the story of a Georgia Quinllian and her family, who move to Miami, fleeing an awkward, job-destroying scandal. Her husband has a frightening sleep disorder, her three-year-old refuses to speak, and then Georgia takes job running errands for a remarkable artist who lives in Stiltsville, a small collection of houses raised on stilts the middle of the ocean.
Susanna Daniel’s first novel, Stiltsville, was awarded the PEN/Bingham prize for best debut work published in 2010. Sea Creatures, was named an Amazon Editors’ Top Pick. Her writing has been published in Newsweek, Slate, One Story, Epoch, and elsewhere. She is a co-founder of the Madison Writers’ Studio.
The interview below is three questions long, and each question is intended to be answerable with a photograph or other image, and a brief explanation. Rights to all images are held by Susanna Daniel.
Nick: Sea Creatures contains so many wonderful images of places and things, I almost don’t know where to begin — the houseboat where Georgia and her family live, Miami’s canals and the suburban houses and flora, the ocean, Charlie’s art, the hurricane that finally upends everyone’s lives… Can you share any images that inspired your portrayal of any of those things?
I took a friend’s boat down the Coral Gables canal when I was in the early stages of writing this book. So many of my shots look like they could have been taken in the 1950s. This is something about Miami — some pockets, including a lot of the canals, are frozen in time.
Nick: The quandaries and subtle paradoxes of parenthood are wonderfully portrayed in Sea Creatures. One of the things I admired is the way it conveys the obsessive, claustrophobic paranoia involved in parenting a very young child — the anxieties, but also the way that every event and every question is pressed into that peculiar, merciless filter — is this the right thing for my child? For Georgia, it makes it difficult to think at all about the future, and even the pre-child past seems faraway, foreign. Any images that you associate with Georgia’s perspective on parenthood?
I’m struck by this photo of Stiltsville from the 1970s. Look at the upstairs porch, at the dock: there’s almost no true barrier. For a Stiltsville kid in the 1970s, the only way to stay safe was to be a strong swimmer. How would I parent at Stiltsville today? I have no idea.
Nick: In both of your novels, Stiltsville (which was a real place) features prominently. It seems magical in both books, but the magic feels a different this time. In your previous book, Stiltsville was a place of family and nostalgia. But in Sea Creatures, it’s a hermit’s place, isolate, strange, a little ominous. Do you have some pictures of Stiltsville you can share? Do any of them capture the feel of the place as you imagined it while writing Sea Creatures?
When writing both books, I thought a lot about the particular loneliness one feels when one is on an island, even if one is not alone. Looking at the ocean is like looking up at the night sky — it reduces you.
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