Monday, October 15, 2012

Sea of Light excerpt by Jenifer Levin

The Sea of Light by Jenifer Levin is a wise, beautiful, and very American story of three women and their desire to excel and win - and heal one another - in the highly charged world of athletic competition.

Angelita is the hurricane that brings down a plane carrying a team of star-quality swimmers, groomed from childhood to compete at the international level. Babe Delgado is a young Cuban-American woman, presumed dead, who is rescued from the crash. Fifty-one hours in the Atlantic have left her scarred in body and spirit, afraid to compete again. Brenna Allen is a tough, driven swim coach at a small university, grieving for a lover lost to cancer. She finds solace in building her own winning team, driving her overworked captain, Ellie Marks, ever harder. Ellie is a child of holocaust survivors, struggling to own herself and her sexuality as hard as she's working to win. Brenna recruits Babe, promising to help her rebuild her damaged body, strength, and will.

The Sea of Light is a story of wins, losses, and passions in a world where destiny and magic interfere with victory, where families are forced to reconcile with private hurts and false dreams, and where a redemptive, healing love between women - erotic and overwhelmingly intimate - stands in stark contrast to the expectations of the world. A sensitive, powerful tale of self-discovery, sexual identity, and violent emotions unleashed by sudden disaster, this novel is sure to command attention and acclaim.


Dinner stays half-cooked. We talk about a lot of things.

Kay, the house, Boz. Her job. This new kid on the team, who will help them win big meets—some girl with a Spanish-sounding name I won’t remember. She asks about me, too: Do I still love my work? Have I been seeing anyone since Marianne? I tell her, Yes. And: No one important.

Mostly, though, it’s good to feel comfortable in her presence again. Even though she’s a wreck, and I feel the dim jangling danger of unexplored emotions sloshing around in the bucket of myself, at least we’re both finally, fully here—at a kitchen table, on a living room sofa, holding hands like friends, reaching to touch a cheek or shoulder.

Boz whines to go out and we walk him together, bundled in sweaters against the breeze from river and bay. Ambling between streetlights, fire hydrants. The dog seems happier, jumps against my thighs in some sort of supplication and gives a canine version of a smile, I think. I rub his chest. Taking a shine to the idea of him, of keeping him, despite myself. Watching us, Bren laughs. A full laugh, prematurely ended—she’s cut it off intentionally like an unwanted digit. Walking back against the wind, she takes my arm. Whistles some tune. The good mood begins to make me nervous. It’s like being on the edge of something—her grief the true reality to take into account, the more permanent underlying condition she is likely to relapse into at any second—and, instinct tells me, I ought to maintain a certain detachment. But I let her take my arm; because we’re friends, because she has done it so many times before. I let her press the arm with her fingers; because, I tell myself, sixteen years means something, and it’s okay to trust.

Keys in the door. A burst of comfort and warmth. Boz off the leash, light dimmers turned, sweaters off. We broil dinner, throwing everything together: too-dry fish, stale rice, fatigued vegetables. Bren eats with surprising appetite. Watching, I feel good. And I eat too. The danger signals fade away. Between bites she is matter-of-fact.

“Ever cremate anyone?”

“No. When my mom died they had a wake—the whole traditional thing. Billy got drunk again, it made Dad furious. They went into the basement and yelled at each other. Marianne showed up late, she and I had our last big blowout fight, in front of everyone. Pat’s kids started crying. So did his wife. The whole thing was a mess. Still—it was good in a way. It was a time and a place to get it all out, you know? All the grief, all the mess.”

“Well, when you cremate someone—”

“What, sweetie?”

“—They make you pick out an urn. I chose one—just any old one—it didn’t seem to matter. Later, though, I had second thoughts, that maybe Kay would have wanted something special. Like a vase in the shape of an old whaling ship.”

She laughs. So do I. She scrapes her plate clean, drops fork and knife across it with a sudden clatter.

“Anyway, they give you the remains in a plastic bag. It looks like dusty chips of gravel—not ashes at all, really. The bag is sealed. And you put it in the urn, you take it away.” She glances up at me, her face uncertain. “I’ve been fighting with the bunch of them long-distance, the whole Goldstein clan. They told me the cremation was some sort of defilement, they wanted a regular burial—a coffin, gravestone, all of that. And some rabbi to bless her. As if it would wipe out everything about her life that they didn’t care to see. Me, for instance. But she hated that stuff, you know. ‘Keep me out of the ground, Bren!’ she said. ‘Keep me out of the ground, and away from those men in their little black hats!’”

It sounds just like Kay. I can feel myself smile.

We clean the table, wash dishes, wrap food up and stash it in the fridge. Bren dries utensils, places them neatly in rows in the cupboard drawers. She hums softly, seems happy again.

Now it’s late. Boz is sacked out on the pseudo-Oriental rug. I scratch his ears for good-night, give Bren a forehead kiss and tell her to sleep well, ask one last time if she needs another blanket. No, she says, not a blanket.

In the bathroom I wash up, brush teeth, glare at the mirror and mentally slap myself around. I am putting on a little weight. Short-featured Irish face hovering at the borderline of early middle age, wrinkles etched around eyes and mouth. Always too serious to be cute; now, too old as well.

Instinct blinks some danger signal again, warning me to think a while, figure out what is going on. Bren. Food. The dog. The ashes.

Phrases well up in me—from prayers, I think, from long ago. Our light, our sweetness, and our hope. Banished children of Eve.

And I tell myself: Stop it, Caroline. Give yourself a break. These dynamics are exhausting. Grief’s dynamics always are. But the day is over, and so is the pain. Just go to bed. Just go to sleep.

My bedroom light’s on. In the hallway, she stops me.

“Chick. Come here.”

I am here, I say. Then my face is between her hands and she’s kissing me.

“Bren, no. Just wait.”

I don’t want to, she says. But there’s a kind of terror on her lips, in her voice. I pull back, see the struggle—between the terror and her mastery of it. Part of the mastery, though, is a masking that doesn’t work. The failure makes her sullen.

“Bren, listen to me. We need to talk this one through.”

“Oh no. Talk, talk, talk.”

“It feels like a land mine.”

The mask falls into place and grins. “Don’t worry, okay? I’ll make it feel better.”

“For God’s sake, Bren—that is hardly the issue.”

Then she says it, out loud, for the second time in sixteen years:

Shut up, Chick. You talk too much.

She says it softly, though, and for a second the mask falls away, the tears refusing to spill are real, raw need mingling with fear on her fingertips touching me. Please, she says, please. And I know it’s wrong, but what I know offers no alternative. Something else seizes power. Tosses me up in the rift between body and mind. Mercy. Desire. With nothing to betray but a vase full of ashes. She rocks against me, I rock back, and I just can’t help it. I love her so.

Untreed Reads Publishing

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Lloyd Meeker said...

Dynamite. I'm not a huge fan of first person, but this is beautiful work and works beautifully.

Victor j. Banis said...

I agree with Lloyd about 1st person, but I also agree with the blurb that this is very powerful writing. The emotions feel so real.