John Mattox, II's Reviews > Chesapeake

Chesapeake by James A. Michener
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's review
Apr 01, 2011

really liked it
Read in March, 2011

This novel is a sweeping saga that tracks three families of differing socials classes from the day they arrive on the Delmarva (eastern shore of Maryland) to the late 1970s. It would be interesting to read Michener's view on the last 30 years. Michnener is sparse on dialog and fond of using words that even the college prep courses haven't discovered. If you decide to take this journey, and it is a long one (800+ pages), don't expect high drama and page-turning action and suspense. Prepare yourself for lengthy descriptions of Indians and Europeans exploring the bay and the rivers that feed it. Action, including several accounts of pirates, is described in detail. The saga is compelling but the writing is more akin to narrative history than fiction because of its sterile, seemingly unbiased accounts of the characters.

As a fan of the Chesapeake, it was lovely to read the detailed descriptions of rivers, oysters, crabs, marshes, geese and heron. Michener captured many of the unique elements of the bay--the brackish waters, the Skipjack, Chesapeake retreivers, tomatoe canneries, and lots of corn.

The fictive movments when his characters interacted with historical figures were entertaining--such as one of the Steeds playing cards with George Washington. Michener adds relevancy by weaving into the plot such moments as well as historical events like the civil rights movement and Watergate.

While suspense is not Michener's forte, his language skills are beyond reproach. He has penned timelines one liners among the vast descriptions. One of my favorites is on page 278 and it ends a paragraph wherein Roselind is describing how she will landscape Devon Island. "My principal flowers will be trees. Because when you plant trees, you're entitled to believe you'll live forever."

The pragmatic knowledge, ingenuity and rebellousness of the Turlock clan is also laughable and admirable at times. At one point a sailing yacht has run aground in the soft mud of the Choptank. The yacht clearly outweighs the Turlock's skipjack, but Amos (I believe) brokers a deal for $50 dollar so free the boat. Knowing that he cannot tow it free, he ties a line to the yacht's mast at least half way up and begins to make it heal. When the mast is almost parallel to the water and the keel is unstuck, the tide bouyes the boat and it float free. The owner complains that $50 is a lot of money for 6 minues work. To which Amos replies something like, "$5 for doing, $45 for know how."

If you have the time and want to learn more about the Chesapeake and enjoy historical fiction, this novel is worthy of your time.

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Mary I have to disagree about the expectation of high drama. I was listening to it in the car (all 50 hours of it), and I had to turn it off during the part where Eden was almost purchased by Cline. The suspense was unbearable.

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