REVIEW: Sea of Hooks by Lindsay Hill
“Have you ever considered how a secret opens dimensionality in a person–how duplicity is always the intentional pushing back of a flat wall so that it becomes the back wall of a room? Because a secret must have a place to reside, a place where it is kept, and that place cannot be on the surface; it must be a pushed-back place, spacious enough for a secret to disappear, spacious enough for intimacy to enter, even if only the intimacy of how one holds a secret.”
Sea of Hooks is fixated upon secrets.
Whether physical or abstract, secrets pervade virtually every character and even permeate the very structural spine of the novel.
Lindsay Hill, author of six collections of poetry, spent around 20 years documenting his thoughts and filing them, which he then compiled to create Sea of Hooks. The process gave Hill the agency to use his endless arsenal of poetic skills and strategies, and resulted in a novel written in short sections — some as brief as a sentence. The myriad of topics in each section are inexplicable at first, but then recur as themes throughout, including but not limited to: furniture, other people’s dreams, the architecture of memory, the rubicon, the past, philascope, the upside down diagonal world, fire, the theory of sound, something readers become familiar with called “The Wonder Ocean,” and, of course, the messengers, which are random discarded objects (i.e. trash) that Christopher, our protagonist, attempts to instill with meaning.
The narrative revolves around Christopher’s coming-of-age, his mother’s suicide, his father, an alcoholic war veteran, and his struggle to overcome many trials often associated with an unstable household. As more is shared about Christopher and his parents, it becomes clear that they each keep their darkest, most uncertain moments buried and hidden from each other.
Secrets riddle Christopher’s family’s history and his young, inquisitive mind.
Some of the secrets are filled in — Christopher’s dyslexia, the reading tutor that takes advantage of him, his warped sexual relationships thereafter, his obsession with his parents’ life before he was born, and his friend Dr. Thorn, the only person Christopher really seems to trust. Meanwhile, some secrets are left to drift, presented through various lenses:
Scientific: “He learned that sound dissipated right away because it travels fast. So why don’t you hear all that’s been said whirring by you all the time like standing in a steady wind?”
Supernatural: “He walked the streets for hours through the fog, and there arose a sense of falling, as if the objects of the world were flying past him…his feet, once bound to pavement, now unhinged.”
Poetic: “The past is formed of outcomes now at hand–in the angle of a glance from where you stand.”
Philosophical: “Because of his theory of sound, Christopher never talked out loud to himself at home about anything that he didn’t want his parents to know about, even when he was completely alone in the flat.”
Existential: “Christopher saw that the enclosure, open on all sides, was consciousness.”
Indeed, secret spaces are the novel’s antagonist, and it is Christopher’s inquisitive nature that serves as its narrative pull. For as the scattered supernatural, poetic, philosophical, and existential themes accumulate, and as Christopher continues to drive the plot by seeking out answers, that’s when meaning and revelation crystallize and intertwine. The sections evolve to reveal Christopher at his most self-aware, confronting his past: “As Christopher began to observe the world, he saw that Evelyn’s theory of brokenness was true: that, as he began to break, her brokenness surfaced, showed itself, responded … He saw why brokenness had to be stopped before it invited everything to be broken.”
While epiphanies in Sea of Hooks are rarely so direct, they seem to be hiding in every corner and crack of this fractured text. Despite that upside-down format, where the plot becomes the subtext while the musings take center stage, it never loses you, making it a very rare example of a novel employing an experimental structure so effectively that it feels like this is the only way this story could possibly exist.
by Lindsay Hill