The Rathbones

( 3 )

Overview

Mercy, fifteen years old, is the last of the Rathbone whaling clan. Her father has been lost at sea for nearly ten years—ever since the last sperm whale was seen off the coast of Connecticut. As Mercy’s memories of her father grow dimmer with each passing day, she spends more of her time in the attic hideaway of her reclusive cousin Mordecai. But when a strange and threatening visitor turns up one night, Mercy and Mordecai are forced to flee and set sail on a journey that will ...
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The Rathbones

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Overview

Mercy, fifteen years old, is the last of the Rathbone whaling clan. Her father has been lost at sea for nearly ten years—ever since the last sperm whale was seen off the coast of Connecticut. As Mercy’s memories of her father grow dimmer with each passing day, she spends more of her time in the attic hideaway of her reclusive cousin Mordecai. But when a strange and threatening visitor turns up one night, Mercy and Mordecai are forced to flee and set sail on a journey that will bring them deep into the haunted history of the Rathbone family.

From the depths of the sea to the lonely heights of the widow’s walk; from the wisdom of the worn Rathbone wives to the mysterious origins of a sinking island, Mercy and Mordecai’s enchanting journey will bring them to places they never imagined possible.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

Fifteen-year-old Mercy Rathbone is the youngest twig of a New England sea-faring dynasty. Seven years ago, her father disappeared while on a North Atlantic whaling expedition. In the years since, young Mercy has grown up in the old family mansion, nurtured by the tales of her eccentric Uncle Mordecai. After a sudden act of violence causes them to flee, this unlikely pair embarks on an ocean voyage into the history of their adventurous ancestors. With its echoes of The Odyssey, Moby Dick, and Edgar Allan Poe, The Rathbones still manages to be an original literary gothic novel all its own.

From the Publisher
“A remarkable tale, both epic and intimate. . . . Beautifully crafted and elegantly told. A siren song of a story.”
—Erin Morgenstern, bestselling author of The Night Circus
 
“Unforgettable. . . . Clark’s magic is in creating places that will linger with you, and make you long for the sea as if you, too, were spawned from an ancient whaling family.”
The Chicago Tribune

“Clark writes a beautiful prose line, and the story, like the ocean, gets deeper, richer, and stranger the farther out you go. . . . The Rathbones is the most sui generis debut you’re likely to encounter this year. Think Moby-Dick directed by David Lynch from a screenplay by Gabriel Garcia Marquez . . . with Charles Addams doing the set design and The Decembrists supplying the chanteys.”
The Millions, Most Anticipated Books of 2013
 
“Fabulous. . . . Cleverly crafted and a beguiling read. . . . [The Rathbones] will provide landlubbers many a diverting hour following the fortunes of this salty family. . . . Woven from many fantastical threads. . . . Part fairy tale, part sea yarn (with nods to Melville and Hemingway), part Homeric epic, it is also a story of star-crossed love, spiced with Gothic Poe-like details and a dollop of farce.”
The Boston Globe

“This is a novel of vividly imagined settings: the Rathbone home, the islands Mercy and Mordecai visit, the ship on which they sail. Clark’s command of language and power of description are the novel’s great strengths. . . . Clark’s writing is unquestionably beautiful. . . . Be borne away by the novel’s lyricism and return from the journey refreshed.”
The Dallas Morning News

“Dark and beautifully written, Janice Clark’s journey into family history captures the salty bonds of blood and sea, with all that lies beneath: from long held secrets to a broken covenant with the whale. As cautionary a tale as Melville’s, this is nevertheless a woman’s odyssey, one that creates a kind of longing that lingers far beyond its final pages. I’m telling everyone I know to read this one.”
—Brunonia Barry, bestselling author of The Lace Reader

“Full of longing and desire, The Rathbones is a wonder. Janice Clark has written a new chapter of American myth and family legend, an epic tale of adventure-of men who go off to sea and the women who wait for them until they can wait no longer. Mercy Rathbone, the 15-year-old girl whose odyssey is at the story’s core, is a brilliant creation, who will haunt your memory long after you turn the final page.”
—Keith Donohue, New York Times bestselling author of The Stolen Child

The Rathbones is a gorgeous, gothic tale of a seafaring family and their dark secrets, passed through generations. Reminiscent of Melville, Janice Clark’s writing is inventive and astonishing in its sensuousness and attention to historic details.”
—Kathleen Kent, bestselling author of The Heretic’s Daughter

“If Faulkner’s Snopes family from Yoknapatawpha County had gone to sea, they might have become the Rathbones: generations of men whose impossible goal was to tame the ocean and slay its leviathans—but whose story, in the end, could only be told by a woman. Janice Clark has fit the whole world into this beautiful and capacious book, proving that it’s not only life that came from the sea, but language and love as well.”
—Daniel Wallace, bestselling author of Big Fish and The Kings and Queens of Roam

“[A] beautifully written, playful and intricate debut novel. Clark creates evocative descriptions . . . making her images and encounters between people especially vivid.”
Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Drawing on Edgar Allan Poe, Homer and Herman Melville, an ambitious saga of lineage and whaling. . . . Simultaneously mythic, gothic and whimsical. . . . Clark imagines a rich hinterland to her briny story . . . [and] seduces with her vision and prose.”
Kirkus Reviews

“A story so grandly conceived that it recalls both the Odyssey and Moby-Dick and will make you taste the sea. . . . Tragic and magical, mythic and magisterial . . . an absorbing good read.”
Library Journal

“Take a deep breath before you start reading The Rathbones, and renew regularly. Her book is vastly appealing in its primal reach back to the Odyssey and Moby-Dick. The Rathbones will draw in men and women alike, and at its close, many of those readers may well be inclined to take another deep breath—and start all over again.”
Bookpage

Publishers Weekly
A teenager comes of age and grapples with the heavy burdens of family secrets against the backdrop of the 19th-century New England whaling industry in this beautifully written, playful, and intricate debut novel. Fifteen-year-old Mercy Rathbone’s father, a whaler, has been away from home for nearly a decade, but Mercy holds out hope for his return. She happens to witness her mother coupling with a stranger, a scene that prompts Mercy and her cousin Mordecai to flee their home in panic. They embark on a journey of discovery that leads her to the truth about her missing brother and the rest of her family (the inclusion of several family trees with ever-spreading branches is a nice visual companion to the prose). Mercy’s travels alternate with flashbacks depicting her ancestors, beginning in 1761, with Moses, the first Rathbone, who had the gift of spotting a whale before any sign of it was visible. Clark creates evocative descriptions (a whale’s carcass is a “diminished hulk of patched black and rotted gray”), making her images and encounters between people especially vivid. Agent: Mollie Glick, Foundry Literary + Media. (Aug.)
Library Journal
A widow's walk atop a crumbling mansion where beautiful haunted women wait in vain for their men to return from the sea; a family's mysterious past, their fortunes gained and lost; and a journey back in time. All this (and more) describes debut author Clark's saga of the whales and the water. In 1850s Connecticut, young Mercy Rathbone and her Uncle Mordecai embark on a coastal journey. They uncover unimaginable family secrets: 100 years earlier, patriarch Moses Rathbone, a seafaring shipbuilder, was also a much married husband and fruitful father. He amassed a whaling empire that slowly eroded under curious circumstances. Mercy and Mordecai, the two remaining Rathbones, take on the complex task of finding pieces of the family's story and fitting them back together. Written with a deft hand, the novel returns to a time in American history when great communities of mariners understood the power of the sea and the creatures within. VERDICT At once sprawling, ambitious, and tightly woven, this gothic tale is shrouded in longing and loss, with hints of the supernatural woven throughout. Readers of epic family sagas will find it both compelling and captivating. [See Prepub Alert, 3/18/13.]—Susanne Wells, Indianapolis
Kirkus Reviews
Drawing on Edgar Allan Poe, Homer and Herman Melville, an ambitious saga of lineage and whaling in which Mercy and Mordecai Rathbone embark on a circular voyage in pursuit of their identities. Simultaneously mythic, gothic and whimsical, Clark's debut imagines the North American whaling industry through the lens of an eccentric, male-dominated dynasty springing from Moses Rathbone, discovered at sea in a barrel in 1761. With his combination of maritime skills and instinct, Moses systematically breeds a line of sons who will harvest untold numbers of sperm whales and generate enormous wealth. Wives are stolen and spurned, girl children mysteriously absent. But the arc of the Rathbone supremacy declines, as does the whale population, and by the time Mercy sets off in 1859 with her cousin Mordecai to look for Mercy's father and her mysterious twin brother, and also escape the man chasing her from Rathbone House, the family's history has begun to be covered by the sands of time. Clark imagines a rich hinterland to her briny story, yet the episodic foreground is desultory, with the cousins wandering among islands in the Atlantic, responding numbly to dark, sometimes opaque discoveries. Eventually returning to Rathbone House, Mercy excavates the last complicated layer of her family's bonds and bids several goodbyes and one hello. Chicago-based author Clark seduces with her vision and her prose but disappoints with non-epic storytelling.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780345803610
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 5/6/2014
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 487,540
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Janice Clark is a writer and designer living in Chicago. She grew up in Mystic, Connecticut (land of whaling and pizza) and has lived in Montreal, Kansas City, San Francisco, and New York, where she earned an MFA in writing at NYU. Her short fiction has appeared in Pindeldyboz and The Nebraska Review, and her design work is represented in the Museum of Modern Art. The Rathbones, which she also illustrated, is her first novel.
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Read an Excerpt

Excerpted from the Hardcover Edition

PROLOGUE

Moses knows what will happen. Not just how the trials will go today, or what the fathers will do when their golden sons fail and how the boys' mothers will bear it. The green of his eyes has long since been burned away by the sun on the sea, and there is no window in the little room. But he sees it all anyway, from his high blue bed. He sees the whole sweep of it.

The great herds of sperm whales that once streamed along the coast have already thinned and will soon disappear. Fleets of ships are being built with holds deep enough to provision the long voyages required to find fresh pods, to the Pacific, to the Azores and the Indian Ocean. Boys no longer climb the watchtowers that line the shore to look for whales; instead they climb to crow's nests at the tops of masts. The towers on shore will soon be torn down, their timbers used to frame the houses of captains and merchants, which will rise in the hills above the harbors as the whale gold continues to flow. Captains' wives will conduct their own searches of the sea from the widow's walks at the tops of the houses. Other towers will rise. Moses closes his eyes and sees them, the derricks, first of wood, then of steel, sprouting up across the sea of prairie. He feels the rumble as dark fountains surge up and spray across the sky; he sees black oil replace the white spermaceti. In a few years the captains will stop sailing. Some will move away and take up other occupations; some will linger, taking their wives' places on the widow's walks, staring out to sea. The houses will fall into disrepair. They will pass to city people who will use the walks for sun parlors or to store old clothes.

Moses does not choose to see such things. He longs to look back instead, to the first morning that the Misistuck sailed. He wishes it were that day. He strains to lift his silver head and there it all is again: the watchtower at the end of the point that curls into the sea; his son high on the tower, pointing, crying out, his voice carrying clear and strong across the bay to his brothers, already swarming up the masts and over the rigging. Moses sees the white sails billow as the ship moves toward the bright water where the whales are sounding.

C H A P T E R O N E
Widow's Walk
{in which we meet the last of the Rathbones}

Naiwayonk, Connecticut, 1859

If I had not heard the singing voice that night, none of the rest might have happened.

Mama might yet be carving her bones; Mordecai lingering in his attic, leading me through the same old lessons on the sperm; both of my crows would still accompany me everywhere. I could have drifted through my life, forgetful of the time passing, and stayed always undersized. Maybe Papa would have finally come home.

But it's not for me to say. Though I have the keen eyes that were once the gift of all the Rathbones--standing now on shore, looking out to the horizon, I see what I know you would not if you were standing beside me: a flock of terns, a league away, diving as one upon a school of bream that darkens the clear blue sea to cobalt-- I cannot see into the future, as my forebears sometimes could.

I do know that if we hadn't fl ed the house that night I would never have met the worn wives, or visited my grim in- laws on the Stark Archipelago, or seen the sinking island where Papa was born. The fate of my lost brother would have remained a mystery, as would what truly happened between Mama and Papa.

But I did hear the voice that night, and what I found when I followed it compelled me to flee the house with cousin Mordecai and to shed...

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Reading Group Guide

1. Please be advised: this guide contains spoilers for the book.

The Rathbones
presents a very vivid description of whaling in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Discuss the impacts of the whaling life on childhood, family structure, and personal choice that are presented in the novel. What do you think that kind of life must have been like?

2. Examine the character of Moses Rathbone. From where did his mystical connection to whales originate? What were his goals? Do you agree with the way he went about achieving them?

3. Why do Mercy and Mordecai flee after the appearance of "the man in blue" at their house?

4.  From Mouse Island to Circe's cove, Mercy and Mordecai discover many stories and encounter many people while on their voyage. Which part of their journey was your favorite? Why?

5. The Rathbones has many similarities to Homer's The Odyssey. In what ways do characters in The Rathbones compare to characters in The Odyssey? How are some of the journeys taken similar?

6. Discuss the treatment of women in the novel. For example, how did the experience of the Rathbone wives (Chapter Five, The Worn Wives, 1778) compare and contrast with the marriages of the Stark women (Chapter Ten, The Golden Wives, 1801)? What was expected of them? What authority did they have over their own lives?

7. Alternatively, discuss the treatment of boys in the novel. How did Mordecai's life compare to those of his male Rathbone ancestors?

8. The novel is primarily told from the perspective of fifteen-year-old Mercy. How did her age and gender inform the telling of the Rathbone history?

9. What is the significance of the crows that follow Mercy? In what ways do they guide and help her?

10. Discuss the mother-daughter relationship between Verity and Mercy. What do you think motivates Verity's treatment of her daughter? How does Mercy view her own mother?

11. How does the discovery of Verity's journals change Mercy and Mordecai's relationship? Did the knowledge that they are half-siblings, and not cousins, change your perspective on their odyssey together?

12. If you could meet one character from the book, which character would it be, and why?

13. If you had to choose one word to describe the overriding theme of The Rathbones, what would it be?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 3 )
Rating Distribution

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 14, 2013

    A good read

    I enjoyed this novel. It had everything I appreciate in good fiction.....a good old, well told story.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 11, 2013

    Surface Tension

    I understand the necessity for atmospheric novels in our literary history. However, as a contemporary reader, I think that the era of describing one's characters' feelings with vivid descriptions of sunlight and weather is over. I leapt into this novel about a girl's quest for her origins set amidst a history of the whaling industry, expecting something deeper, more internal, more intriguing. To me, The Rathbones is like a grand ship, gilt but hollow, floating on the surface of a potentially more exquisite story. Alas, I was more interested in the whale beneath, and did not find her here.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 6, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

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