Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Five top books of teenage misadventure

Amber Dermont received her MFA in fiction from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Her short stories have appeared in numerous literary magazines and anthologies, including Dave Eggers’s Best American Nonrequired Reading 2005, Francis Ford Coppola's Zoetrope: All-Story, and Jane Smiley’s Best New American Voices 2006. A graduate of Vassar College, she received her Ph.D. in creative writing and literature from the University of Houston. She currently serves as an associate professor of English and creative writing at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia.

Her debut novel is The Starboard Sea.

With Sophie Roell for The Browser, Dermont named five top books of teenage misadventure, including:
When Captain Flint Was Still a Good Man
by Nick Dybek

Let’s move on to your fourth book choice, When Captain Flint was still a Good Man.

This is written by a friend of mine, Nick Dybek. He writes with unbelievable power and detail about the sea. Our books came out in the same year and we both have a character named Cal. Both our novels are set in 1987, and are about the sea and the power of the sea. Nick’s book is a retrospective narrative, the actual events take place when Cal was about 14, and he has an obsession with Treasure Island. He lives on an island called Loyalty Island, and everyone who lives on it is involved in fishing.

Cal dreams of the sea. There’s this relationship between the ocean and the land: when you’re out at sea and you sleep out on the water, with the hypnotic rhythm of the waves, you have these funny dreams that often involve land in these crazy ways. When you can’t tread on the earth you become this other species. But when you come back to the land, you long desperately for the sea. There are so many gorgeous scenes about the ocean in the book. There’s a scene when a character falls into a crab cage, and the cage goes down into the ocean at hurtling speed. It’s so haunting.

Cal’s father is a fisherman, he’s out at sea for months. When times are good they’re wonderful, but you’re always at the mercy of the weather and the market. It’s just such a tough life. I love the child noticing the parents’ hardship and wanting to romanticize the world, but being aware that’s a very dangerous thing to do – making a world seem more glamorous and exciting than it actually is.

There’s a man called John Gaunt, who owns the fleet of boats, and when he dies, his son Richard plans to sell the whole thing off. So you have this dilemma – everyone on the island is going to potentially lose their livelihood.

Some of the reviews comment on what a great plot the book has.

I do think it’s a brilliantly plotted book. It has many secrets that it doesn’t willingly give up. Plot is very important to me as a writer, I think it’s underrated.

Again, this book touches on the theme of bad marriages or broken families. Why are you so attracted to those?

My own family is incredibly stable and supportive, my parents have been married for years, and they still love each other. I’ve an older sister and a younger brother, I’m the middle child, observant, often-overlooked – and happy to be overlooked. But the friends that I made often didn’t have that in their lives – I had a lot of friends who had tremendous instability. I think there’s a kind of honesty to it. A family really only stays together if people are willing to compromise, and there’s a certain dishonesty to compromise. So if people are unwilling to compromise it creates all this drama and you actually get to see what it is the parents really want for themselves. Parents give up so much of their lives for their children and when a parent decides not to give something up for a child, it creates this unbelievable opportunity for narrative, for story.
Read about the other books Dermont tagged at The Browser.

Writers Read: Nick Dybek (April 2012).

Visit Amber Dermont's Facebook page.

The Page 69 Test: The Starboard Sea.

--Marshal Zeringue