I am an insomniac and have been for as long as I can remember. Even as a baby, I am told I was often up all night. Where the inability to sleep used to plague me, I am learning, slowly, to become more comfortable with the extra time afforded while the rest of the world sleeps. I use the time to read and write and day dream and catch up on television. Sometimes, I simply sit still and do nothing at all.
In Sea Creatures, the latest novel from Susanna Daniel, Georgia is an insomniac married to Graham, who suffers from parasomnia. Because I know the world of troubled sleep, I was instantly drawn into this novel and this marriage plagued by unrest.
Georgia and Graham have recently moved from Illinois to Miami, Georgia’s hometown, because Graham lost his job and Georgia’s business has failed. There’s a wake of scandal behind them because of unfortunate occurrences while Graham was asleep. They have a young son, Frankie, who refuses to speak and in Miami, they hope they can get a fresh start. They buy a houseboat, which they dock in the canal behind the home her father shares with his new wife, Lidia. Graham has a new research fellowship and Georgia gets work running errands out to Charlie, a loner and artist who lives in Stiltsville, the small community of homes towering over the waters off the Miami shoreline.
It is difficult, though, for a marriage to have a fresh start when it is in trouble. Instead of growing together, the couple is growing farther apart. Graham is not the father Georgia hoped he would be and his sleep episodes are an increasing source of tension. Georgia also wants more from Graham as a woman though she never really articulates her desires, choosing, instead, to support Graham’s independence, trying not to change the man. Or, she is, in her own way, letting him go as she reaches for someone else.
As Hurricane Andrew aims its fury at Miami, Georgia, Graham, Charlie, and Frankie are brought together and torn apart in unexpected and uniquely painful ways.
Susanna Daniel is a beautiful writer, one of my favorites. She composes sentences elegantly, thoughtfully, with a delicate attention to detail. Her previous novel, Stiltsville and Sea Creatures are both set in South Florida and Daniel captures the richness of place perfectly—the humidity and heat, the watery canals threaded throughout Miami, the taste of salt that lingers in the air, the bougainvillea flowering everywhere. To read her novels is to know something of Florida.
In Sea Creatures, Daniel also brings in the diversity of Miami, how English is the second language of the city, how black and brown people are part of the city’s fabric. I would have liked to see more of this reality across the novel’s pages but it was a joy to see a Miami story that acknowledged who actually lives in Miami.
The only thing missing from this novel was a stronger sense of the physical, of Georgia in her body. During moments of intimacy, we are only given the briefest of glimpses into what is happening, and then Daniel gives her characters their privacy, perhaps too much privacy. It would have been lovely to see the delicate attention to detail Daniel brings to Georgia’s interior life and how she sees the world, also brought to Georgia’s exterior life, how she touches and is touched.
One of my favorite things about Daniel’s writing, and this truly shines in Sea Creatures, is how she tells a story completely. This is not to say the reader will get everything they want but we are not left with nagging questions. Because she has committed to telling a story, Daniel tells the story. This sense of completeness becomes almost unbearable in Sea Creatures but as a whole, the novel is so masterful, the burden becomes light.