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The Watery Part of the World

3.03  ·  Rating details ·  1,352 ratings  ·  297 reviews
Michael Parker has created a wholly original world from two known facts: (1) Theodosia Burr Alston, daughter of the controversial vice president Aaron Burr, disappeared in 1813 while en route by schooner from South Carolina to New York; and (2) in 1970, two elderly white women and one black man were the last townspeople to leave a small barrier island off the coast of Nort ...more
Hardcover, 261 pages
Published April 26th 2011 by Algonquin Books (first published 2011)
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Average rating 3.03  · 
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 ·  1,352 ratings  ·  297 reviews

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Apr 24, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book received a good review in The Washington Post and I had high hopes for it. I thought the premise sounded so interesting: in 1813, Theodosia Burr Alston, the daughter of disgraced former VP Aaron Burr (who had killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel and tried to create an empire in Mexico) disappeared at sea somewhere off the coast of North Carolina. This is a true fact. But in this novel, Parker imagines that Theodosia did not die in a shipwreck (probably what truly occurred), but that her ...more
Jun 27, 2011 rated it it was ok
I had high hopes for this book. I read raving reviews of it everywhere. NPR sealed the deal for me, so I requested it from the library.

A friend just asked me, "What are you reading?" So, I said, "Ugh. I hate to even tell you. I'm having a love hate relationship with a book." Which of course, piqued her interest even more.

I read most of this book in one sitting. And then it sat for a day or two. It didn't call to me and I honestly felt only obligated to finish it because I had read well past my
Apr 30, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I'm giving this book only 2 stars because I found the story kind of boring. It was so difficult to figure out what was happening in the plot. The story switched between two time periods, but this wasn't very obvious in the beginning. I didn't really get to know the characters or frankly care about any of them. ...more
With The Watery Part of the World the reader trolls through the Outer Banks of North Carolina during two different eras. The first, the historical time period of Theodosia Burr Alston(Whaley), daughter of the notorious Aaron Burr. The second isn't identified specifically but is the time of her great-great-great granddaughters, Theo and Maggie Whaley and handyman, Woodrow Thornton, a distant relative of Theodosia's friend and carpenter Hezekiah Thornton.

What I found most interesting about this bo
This story has a lot of atmosphere, and Michael Parker writes well.
The way their family history affects the sisters and their relationship with Woodrow is interesting.

There a few things that weighed down a little for me:

The narrative gets a little confusing at times, because several characters in the past and present have the same names.
(possible mini spoiler alert!)
(view spoiler)
Jul 26, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Disappointed after reading reviews--boo to NPR.
Parallel stories 150 years apart, in the same place, same families, similar white/black relations. Hardly a new narrative device, necessary to avoid climax/denouement of one story way ahead of the other, if you're going chronologically.
No matter, the main problem is the modern story, which took up ? 2/3 of the book (felt like a lot more). It was boring and predictable, none of the characters were well developed or particularly interesting, although
Sep 12, 2011 rated it it was ok
Torn between 2 and 3 stars for this one. I loved the setting, the sense of place, (there are some gorgeous descriptions in the book) and the tension in the relationships between people and nature, in a place where the landscape and elements can be both comforting & fierce. I also liked the author's examination of how the place shaped the people that lived there, their relationships to each other, and the issue of what bonds people (sometimes inexplicably) together, but also might hold them back. ...more
Michelle H
Jan 19, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
BORING. I could have loved this one. It includes a real-life unresolved mystery involving the disappearance of Aaron Burr's adult daughter, enough isolation on a remote island and plentiful reasons for the main character NOT to return to her former life which explains why her story remains a mystery today(gotta keep the historical fiction about real life figures plausible!), and the perfect amount of down home references to Eastern North Carolina places and people to make me remember my years sp ...more
Nov 30, 2011 rated it really liked it
I loved this book. The writing was beautiful throughout, and the stories intertwined in the novel were as individual and mysterious as the photograph on the cover. The islands off of North Carolina, the sand, the scrub, and the sea were the strongest characters. Even though Theodosia Burr, lost at sea according to history, offers a fiery opening when she is the only survivor of a ship run aground by pirates, the steady pulse of the tides and the changing forces of the wind really control the boo ...more
Oct 03, 2012 rated it it was ok
The relationship between the sisters and Woodard - and how it's affected by their history was interesting. Beyond that, the book was more boring than I expected given the reviews. It switches between 2 time periods, which would have helped except that some of the characters have the same names so it gets confusing trying to remember which time period the narrative is currently in.

The premise was interesting: Theodosia Burr Alston is thought to have died in a shipwreck somewhere off the North Ca
Jan 27, 2012 rated it did not like it
Shelves: 2012
I don't think I've ever given one star before but that is mostly because if I'm not enjoying a book I stop reading it. However, I spent the first 100 pages deciding whether to move on to something else and then figured I might as well finish it. I was hoping that something would happen that would build up some kind of excitement. I found the book boring and I never really connected with the characters. It was all so dreary. There were a few chapters that kept a attention but they didn't last lon ...more
May 19, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction, 2011
I am about 50 pages shy of actually finishing this, but I believe I am done. The novel was beautifully written,and the characters vividly rendered, but events unfolded too slowly to keep me engaged.

On a positive note: the cover of this book is gorgeous.
Jul 21, 2011 rated it it was ok
I liked the premise, the characters, and certainly the setting, but the narrative style was so hard to read. Long, run on,awkward, sentences. I get what the author was doing with that, but I just never could develop a reading groove for this book and found myself pleased to get to the end.
May 09, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The historical sections of the book were really good. A focus just on that would have made this a much better book overall.
Jan 24, 2020 rated it really liked it
I see many reviewers did not like this book because it was *boring* to them. It is not a book of action. It primarily takes place inside the heads ( and hearts) of the main characters. I found it lovely, thoughtful, dream-like and satisfying.
Feb 26, 2011 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: people who like Faulkner and Southern literature
Recommended to Lisa by: This is an advanced copy from Valerie at Fountainhead Books
The Watery Places of the World is a beautiful, well characterized novel with a strong sense of place and purpose. If a classic is a book that "has something to say and says it well," then this book has those earmarks. The author's reflections on love, loss, and what draws people to one another and to a place are perceptive and wonderfully wrought. At first, I struggled a bit to hit my stride with the author's style. For some reason I found the syntax difficult to wrap my feeble mind around. Howe ...more
Apr 25, 2011 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Fans of Michael Parker
Recommended to Yasmin by: Beverly Jackson
I recently finished The Watery Part of the World...I initially picked up this book because of the synopsis...three folks left behind on an island off the coast of North Carolina...two elderly, white sisters and an elderly black gentlemen. Everyone else had either relocated (the living was hard--heavy, ravaging storms with hard rain and winds would do that to most anybody as well as the isolation of being cut off from the mainland and dare I say civilization) or died. I wanted to know what type o ...more
A thoroughly nasty take on the lot of women and the inability of human-kind to care for one another .

A book about selfishness and harm that masquerades as a world where those things do not come from (or amount to) evil just individual moral failures ?

When an author attempts a story focused on the narrative perspective of another race or gender for his protagonists he risks introducing a layer of artificiality or dramatic lie to his story.

This author slips on the cloak of the other and writes
Jun 05, 2011 rated it really liked it
Michael Parker should be applauded for his originality and creativity. His unique and beautifully written novel, The Watery Part of the World, is based upon two little known historical facts. The first, the 1813 disappearance of Theodosia Burr, the daughter of vice president Aaron Burr, while en route to New York from South Carolina via schooner; and the second the true story from 1970 of last residents , of a small barrier island off the coast of North Carolina, two elderly white women and thei ...more
Laura Ballance
Sep 06, 2012 rated it liked it
Recommended to Laura by: Phil Morrison
Theodosia Burr Alston disappeared mysteriously in 1812. There are theories that her ship was lured to its demise by evil Outer Bankers, who benefited from causing ships to wreck. My Hatteras Grandmother told me once that they would get excited when ships wrecked because it meant they would find useful things on the beach, like wood that could be used to build houses and boats, as well as food. She mentioned bananas. Though I doubt Theodosia had any on her boat.
This book (which does not claim to
Jun 20, 2011 rated it liked it
First, I must say that I received this book for free through a goodreads give away. So, I was excited for the book to arrive. The setting of coastal North Carolina is what initially drew me to this book-since I love the North Carolina coast. But, it took me three tries to get past the first chapter of the book and to continue reading. I feel like the idea of the book is a good one but the execution of actually interweaving these two stories is inconsistent. I found both the beginning and the end ...more
May 19, 2011 rated it it was amazing
The Watery Part of the World is an exquisitely written novel of home -- the home in this case is the isolated islands of the Outer Banks of the North Carolina coast. Although there is a plot that moves the story along, I felt most attached to the characters' longing for this watery sandy place. The very individual characters beautifully real with faults and eccentricities, and although all the characters are somewhat enigmatic, I found myself rooting for each one. There is mystery in this novel ...more
Terry Perrel
May 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing
To me, The Watery Part of the World, set on North Carolina's Outer Banks, is the perfect book. I could go on and on with praise for Parker’s well-drawn characters and the way that setting serves as one, too; the lyricism and pacing of his lines to conjure the torrent of the rain and winds, of human emotions, the flatness of them, too; and the depths to which the story mines the contrariness and secrets of the heart and mind, but I’ll stop here because you best read this novel about Aaron Burr's ...more
Lisa Mcbroom
Oct 01, 2014 rated it did not like it
I was so "let down"! As a teen I had an obsession over mysterious vanishings and of course read everything on Theodosia Burr. I was really looking forward to reading this. This is the book in a nutshell... The author is saying to readers " I have a degree in creative writing.... lets see how many "big words" I can use.... let's see how superficial I can be. Now I myself am a fan of the "stream of conscienous" movement and love lyrical writing but don't waste your time! The reason this rates one ...more
May 13, 2011 rated it really liked it
I truly enjoyed this beautifully written book. The two stories (those of 19th-century Theodosia and 20th-century sisters) weren't exactly interwoven well to me, but I liked reading about the lives of the cast of memorable characters living in a unique place and in fascinating circumstances. I agree with Trina that the characters' sense of attachment to place was beautifully conveyed. And I thought that the play of personalities and emotions -- regret, shame, love, racial concerns -- made for a m ...more
Apr 30, 2011 rated it liked it
This was my first goodreads giveaways win. This book was really well written. However, I was under the impression that it was going to be historical fiction and it was really more literary fiction. There were parts of this I really loved, but the story wasn't cohesive and was confusing at times. Also, the whole "aaron burr" aspect, which was what initially attracted me to the book was an inconsequential plot point. ...more
Sep 29, 2011 rated it did not like it
Way too scattered for my taste.
Jun 10, 2012 rated it it was ok
Dee Tindal
Jul 21, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition

Couldn't finish it. Snooze.
Aug 24, 2012 rated it it was ok
Interesting but kinda felt slow and a little pointless.
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MICHAEL PARKER is the author of five novels – Hello Down There, Towns Without Rivers, Virginia Lovers, If You Want Me To Stay, The Watery Part of the World and two collections of stories, The Geographical Cure and Don’t Make Me Stop Now. His fiction and nonfiction have appeared in various journals including Five Points, the Georgia Review, The Idaho Review, the Washington Post, the New York Times ...more

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