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The Sea Came in at Midnight - Steve Erickson First: the disclaimer—I’m not sure I gave this book the chance it deserved. I read it slowly—picking it up and putting it down, too few pages at a reading. Consequently, whatever pacing the author intended was lost on me; my fault not his.

This is one that likely deserves to be read as a mystery of sorts, as it reveals itself slowly, over pages, so-and-so is actually so-and-so. And like all mysteries, it’s probably best accomplished in as few readings as possible. All the characters fit together this way.

An elaborate narrative, well thought-through, carefully constructed, tongue-in-groove. Painstakingly assembled, sanded to a smooth, seamless perfection, and polished to a shine that minimizes characterization to the point that it’s hard for readers (i.e. this reader) to give a damn about them. To that end, it’s rather like reading an Advent calendar or playing Clue—reading to find out which named character was which previously unnamed character. Once the pattern of so-and-so turning out to be so-and-so is established, repeatedly, readers start to anticipate that this guy must be that guy, this woman must be that girl grown up, etc.

The novel pulls the characters together in an intricate web, but I never really cared about any of them. Lifeless, forlorn, and maybe that’s what it set out to be—the stories of people who could exist, friendless, unwanted, unknown. All that said, or perhaps better, that little said, the writing is at times staggeringly beautiful and thought-provoking. Particulary well done was the ‘chaos as vortex’ aspect emphasized dramatically in the constantly shifting focus on different characters.

My inclination is to say I’ve liked it, but I expected to like it more—others whose reviews I follow or friends have rated this higher than I have, they’re not wrong, just different sensibilities. I’m not one who enjoys negatively harping about a novel’s faults, novels are what they are. If I truly dislike a title, I’m more inclined to toss it well before finishing (not everything can suck as badly as On the Road). In the end, I think books that don’t meet my expectations don’t do so at their peril—I don’t think they’ve failed, I usually think I have, especially when others whose opinions I regard highly favor the book that leaves me cold. This one didn’t leave me cold, it left me tepid—aspects I liked quite a lot, characters I could commiserate with would have appealed more.

How's that for the Caspar Milquetoast of reviews?