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The Sea Came in at Midnight

The Sea Came in at Midnight

by Steve Erickson

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Steve Erickson is a visionary novelist whose time has come. Considered by many the secret heir to Pynchon and DeLillo, he has steadily acquired a passionate following of readers over the course of five previous novels. Now, with The Sea Came at Midnight, Erickson delivers a masterwork of intense feeling, scope and power—an intimate epic of late twentieth


Steve Erickson is a visionary novelist whose time has come. Considered by many the secret heir to Pynchon and DeLillo, he has steadily acquired a passionate following of readers over the course of five previous novels. Now, with The Sea Came at Midnight, Erickson delivers a masterwork of intense feeling, scope and power—an intimate epic of late twentieth-century civilization in free fall, an unforgettable young woman's revelation amid the ruins.

In the final seconds of the old millennium, 1,999 women and children march off the edge of a cliff in Northern California, urged on by a cult of silent men in white robes. Kristin was meant to be the two-thousandth to fall. But when at the last moment she flees, she exchanges one dark destiny for a future that will unravel the present.

Answering a cryptic personals ad for a woman "at the end of her rope," Kristin finds temporary haven in the Hollywood Hills with an older, unnamed man as obsessed as he is spiritually ravaged. In a locked room at the bottom of his house, he labors over his life's work: a massive blue calendar the size of a tsunami that measures modern time by the events of chaos and pinpoints the true beginning of the new millenium as not midnight December 31, 1999, but the early hours of one May morning in 1968. This calendar is shot through with the threads of other lives-those searching for a small measure of redemption and an answer to the question, "What's missing from the world?"

From a ritual sacrifice in the name of salvation to a ritual sacrifice in the name of pleasure, from an ancient haunted Celtic tower in Brittany to the revolving memory hotels of Tokyo, from a cinematic hoax in Manhattanthat costs five women their lives to a mysterious bloodstained set of coordinates tacked to the wall of an abandoned San Francisco penthouse, The Sea Came at Midnight is a breathtaking literary dance of fate and coincidence. And, unknown even to her, at the center of that dance is the seventeen-year-old.

Author Biography: Steve Ericksons previous novels, including Days Between Stations, Rubicon Beach, Tours of the Black Clock, Arc dX and Amnesiascope, have been published in ten languages throughout Europe and Asia, and his work has appeared in such magazines and journals as Esquire, Elle, Rolling Stone, Spin, San Francisco, Conjunctions and Salon.

Editorial Reviews

Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Before it concludes, this book proves to be more than a work of '90s nihilism, pre-millennial angst, of SFnal paranoia, exploring "mere anarchy" to the bitter end.
New Yorker
His best book...the most sustained...and the most resonant...This dark dream of a novel, both seductive and cautionary, reverberates as something both archetypal and up-to-the-minute. It's the news that exists between the lines, the story behind the story, a siren song, and a lighthouse's warning beacon.
San Francisco Chronicle
An entrancing novel of fate and coincidence...a Chinese box of a book, in which the whole can be appreciated only as the sum of its eventually interlocking parts...It's no stretch to place Erickson alongside other such literary prestidigitators as Thomas Pynchon and Don DeLillo.
Toronto Globe and Mail
The Literary Equivalnt of a Tsunami.
At its core, The Sea Came in at Midnight is the story of doomsday's durability....Erickson comes to see the big picture....It burrows into his text in literal ways, through concrete delivery systems — satellite dishes, time capsules.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Strip clubs, sexual slavery, Paris dreams, New York horror and California misery catastrophically define and entrap the troubled margin-dwellers inhabiting this penetrating dream vision of the post-nuclear world. At the center is Kristin, who escapes her fate as the last of 2000 women and children sacrificed in a millennialist cult ritual only to become the sex slave of a self-proclaimed "apocalyptologist" she knows only as the Occupant. The Occupant is obsessed with mapping out the world's increasingly bizarre eruptions of violence--many of which have shaped and twisted his own life--on an unconventional calendar that soon has Kristin at its epicenter. Another agitated, tormented character is Louise Blumenthal, aka Lulu Blu, the screenwriter of the world's first snuff film, a hoax that subsequently spawned actual murders. Louise seeks to absolve herself of her crimes by trying to save future snuff actresses and ritualistically vandalizing satellite dishes in L.A. Erickson (Days Between Stations; Amnesiascope) sends his agile prose careening ever deeper into these intertwined lives, their disturbing memories and often tragic choices following a kind of grim logic. This provocative novel is often funny but always serious and lush with insights that make its often outlandish elements eerily familiar. The razor-sharp narrative balances a nonchalant chaos with an unrelenting stream of violence and tenderness; even the most monstrous psyche in Erickson's ensemble of stoic na fs, murderous sadists and the sexually plundered is brilliantly rendered as not only sympathetic, but honest, vigorous and enduring.
Library Journal - Library Journal
In some bizarre cultic rite, 17-year-old Kristen was supposed to leap off the edge of a cliff with 1999 other women and children as the millennium ends. But at the last minute she reneges, fleeing to Tokyo and working as a memory girl who listens to other people's stories. Her own memories are pretty unsettling. Hard up for a roof over her head, she accepted a job through the personals with a man simply called the Occupant, a deranged sort looking for sex without connection in whose house she remains, naked and increasingly perplexed. The man is in fact an "apocalyptologist," and in a locked room he keeps a huge calendar charting events surrounding the advent of the new millennium, which he claims started in May 1968. Kristen has her own ideas on when the millennium began, having to do with her radical poet father, and other characters turn up with their own ideas. That we all have personal millenniums is a terrific concept, but it doesn't work here; Erickson (Amnesiascope) can be a fine writer, polished and gleaming as chrome, but the effect is ultimately of bad sf, with too many subplots and a forced, self-consciously disaffected tone. -- Barbara Hoffert
Geoff Nicholson
...[I]t's a measure of Erickson's skill that he makes the reader suspend disbelief....He brings a high seriousness to what might otherwise seem decidedly silly....If this is still not the great novel some of us are willing [Erickson] to write, his struggles with disorder and mythmaking remain as beguiling as ever.
The New York Times Book Review
The New Yorker
Against a background of chaos, Erickson has fashioned an ingenious Mobius strip of a book.
Kirkus Reviews
A sometimes disorienting novel from Erickson (American Nomad, 1997, etc.) weaves together the lives of a handful of people confronting the millennial apocalypse both personal and cosmic. Set mainly in Los Angeles and Paris over the course of four decades, from the �50s to the present, the story displays Erickson's trademark obsession with underground, unnoticed lives and the ways they are conducted. He assembles a dozen or so chronicles of extremity, the central one belonging to Kristin, who at the last minute drops out of her role as the 2,000th participant in a strange cult's New Year's Eve 1999 mass suicide. Landing in Tokyo, she works as a "memory girl," hired to listen as patrons tell the stories of their lives. (These need to be told because Japan's collective memory has been evaporating since the Emperor abdicated his divinity in 1945.) Left with some empty time when a client expires one evening, Kristin begins to tell her own story, which involves poverty, trauma, and nearly a month of uninterrupted nudity in an empty house. The house belongs to "the Occupant," who meets Kristin through a personal ad and introduces her to the Apocalypse Calendar, his own strange creation establishing a new schedule for the millennium based on the idea that the catastrophes that go unnoticed (e.g., assassinations in the developing world) are highly relevant, while the high-profile catastrophes that most of us hear about (say, the shooting of President Reagon) are trivial in the grand scheme of things. The calendar tells the story of the Occupant's life, which folds into the lives of Mitch, Marie, and other equally alienated souls. In this haphazard collective biography, occasionally powerfulepiphanies glimmer amid the cultural junk cluttering the social trash-heap through which these characters walk. Yet the distractingly complex plot sometimes doesn't even make nonsense. And the taste for a naked young woman's spiritual rejuvenation during sexual intercourse performed on her as she dangles blindfolded from a rope is, undoubtedly, an acquired pleasure.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
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6.02(w) x 8.06(h) x 0.69(d)

Read an Excerpt

I want you at the end of your rope, lashed to the mast of my dreams.

Now she laughs when she reads it. She's trying to remember if she thought it was as ridiculous four months ago, back in L.A. Maybe not; she was a little more desperate then. But now she's almost eighteen, and it just seems very funny to her. That's what a little age and wisdom and perspective will do for you.

The first line from a personals ad that ran in the newspaper just after the New Year. Crumpled and yellowed as though much older, the ad is now tacked to her hotel room wall.

Also tacked to the wall are articles from travel magazines about mysterious cities such as Budapest, Dublin, Reykjavik and San Sebastian, cities she's always assumed she will never see. But then she never thought she would see Tokyo either. There are also articles from literary journals and art magazines about Flannery O'Connor and Uumm Kulthum and Ida Lupino and Sujata Bhatt and Hannah Höch and Big Mama Thornton and Hedy Lamarr and Kathy Acker and Asia Carrera.

There's also, along with the ad that ran in the personals, a piece from the same day's newspaper that tells how exactly two thousand women and children marched off a cliff in Northern California on New Year's Eve at the stroke of midnight. Or anyway, the piece says it was the stroke of midnight, although the paper isn't quite right about this, and some other things. it wasn't, for instance, quite the orderly mass suicide the newspaper suggests. It also wasn't exactly two thousand. The seventeen-year-old American girl who lives in this hotel room knows this because she was there, number two thousand herself; and now she's here in Tokyo, and,well, anyone can do the math.

A month ago, after arriving in Tokyo but before she moved into this room on the top floor of the Hotel Ryu, Kristin lived for a couple of weeks in a ryokan over near the water.

In her little room in the ryokan, she would tack her news clippings and articles to the wall much like she does here, above the little tea table in the corner. Every day the maid would take them down. The maid never said a word to her, nor did Kristin to the maid, the two of them just locked in a silent battle of wills over the articles tacked to the wall. The maid clearly considered the decor unseemly, but Kristin hadn't come all the way from California so someone could tell her what she could or couldn't put on the walls.

Then Kristin moved into the Ryu, one of the revolving memory hotels of Tokyo's Kabuki-cho section, amid the surrounding bars and brothels and strip joints and massage parlors and porn shops. Since she never dreams, she's particularly aware in her sleep of the hum of the hotel's revolution. It's not exactly the hum of machinery or clockwork, it feels and sounds more like the vibration of a tuning fork, in the walls of her room and in the floor beneath her tatami mat. When the revolving cylindrical hotel slides into alignment with one of the outer exits, it opens up into one of the passages that lead to random neighborhoods of the city. Depending on the time of day, the long pulsing blue corridors sometimes deposit Kristin on the Ginza, and from there she walks to the bay not far from the outdoor market where the boats bring in fresh tuna in the early-morning hours.

Her first couple of weeks in Tokyo, when Kristin was living at the ryokan, she would go down to the market every morning and breakfast on fresh sushi with extra wasabi, the strong green horseradish she prefers to the fish. Now that she lives at the Ryu she still sometimes goes down to the wharves, like this morning when, realizing the vendor was out of wasabi, she gravely rejected the sushi and pushed it back across the stall counter uneaten. Sorry, she shook her head, and the seething vendor exploded in highly indignant Japanese. They got into a heated argument despite the fact that neither actually understood anything the other was saying. "But don't you see that the whole point of the sushi is the wasabi?" she kept trying to tell him; he was what Kristin, back in the States, used to call a point-misser.

In the gray day, the gray city disappears. It's possible an empirical investigation would reveal that, during the day, there in fact is no Tokyo, only people wandering an empty plain over grown with tufts of fog that take the shape of shops, homes, hotels, temples. But at night the city blazes like an aquatic arcade surfacing up through black water, and in the most labyrinthine city in the world, Kristin fixes herself to the cityscape by humming a song, any song, since Tokyo exists in a vibrating lull-a maelstrom of frantic motion in complete silence, no honking cars, no hawkers of goods, no obscenity-screaming pedestrians, just the hum of the Yamanote subway like the sonic spine of Tokyo consciousness, or a hum in the air like the whirring revolution of the Hotel Ryu that Kristin hears in her sleep. The song Kristin sings to herself these days is "April Skies," by an English band from the 1980s. Maybe she sings this particular song because it happens to be April now: Hand in hand in a violent life, making love on the edge of a knife, and the world comes tumbling down. At the shores of Tokyo Bay she watches on the other side of the water the bright beacon of light that attracted her attention the first night she was here; she has no idea what makes this light, or where it comes from. At night it's too bright to be a window, too close to be a star. In the daylight neither the light nor its source can be seen at all.

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