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WRECKERS' KEY by Christine Kling

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By Theresa de Valence - Posted on 09 March 2007

Seychelle Sullivan is a butch bitch staking out territory in the testosterone laden business of boat salvage, whose gorgeous lover has developed an interest in an embarrassingly wussy profession. But random events in the storyline won’t really tell you what this book is about.

WRECKERS’ KEY records the thoughts of a deft teller of tales, a boat captain, who learned her trade, the tricks thereof, and a lovely sense of justice from the folks who surround her– her family. This is her journey, nominally through murder and mayhem and pursuit of the bad guys, but really through the decisions she must make about her life.

Within a few pages, I knew I was in the presence of a skilled writer. WRECKERS’ KEY, my first Christine Kling book, is a laudable example of words used economically without distracting descriptive clutter. In less than a couple dozen paragraphs, I met many players and learned their place in Seychelle’s heart, met the author’s wit, her pacing and her sense of beauty: effortlessly, like undersea plants swirling with the flow of water.

The author does a creditable job inserting characters’ backstory like grains of sand and, through continued but mutating repetition, converting that grit into emotional aches until the reader cannot remember for which aches we continue to await explanation, thus building suspense for most characters. The author is not completely successful; the villain is quite improbable, but fortunately, the story is almost over by the time one discovers this.

Good writers talk about what they know in ways that don’t offend the ignorant. Knowing next to nothing about boats, I was pulled through the story, in spite of at least one paragraph where I knew the meaning of only a few verbs. In addition to the author’s skill at plain speaking, hidden at the end of many paragraphs lies a sentence, sometimes two, small surprises of intricately wrapped words, delicately layered perceptions, like poignant fillips.

If a writer talks poorly about what they don’t know, the reader is thrown out of the story, often fatally. Unlike police procedure where one can conduct interviews to get the story right, there are few sources to learn about the creative process. Art history is written by observers, not artists. And most artists cannot speak coherently about the process of creating art.

That Seychelle calls herself an artist and speaks incompetently about art is not terribly surprising; however, what was confusing was that lack of ability juxtaposed with the author’s skill at wrapping words into delicate observations about Seychelle’s day-to-day world. Why one and not the other?

For WRECKERS’ KEY, I’ve read a review which called Seychelle unremarkable and another which called her story meandering. I guess it depends upon how you like your sex. Get it on and get it over with? Take it slow, starting at the back of the neck, tasting the slight saltiness on the surface of the skin as you nibble on your way round?

But you already know my opinion.