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Storm Tide

A book by Marge Piercy

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Shared Success

  • Mar 11, 2010
I've read many Marge Piercy books, novels and poetry (and, in general, lean more toward the latter), and reread several as I prepared to do an interview with the author for the spring 2010 issue of The Smoking Poet. Her ability to produce is remarkable. At this writing, she has produced 17 novels and 17 collections of poetry, and her range in genre is equally awe-inspiring. Storm Tide, however, was the first I'd read in which Piercy collaborated with her husband, writer Ira Wood. I was most intrigued as I settled in for a good Sunday read. Would I be able to distinguish the two? Would their styles mesh or would the seams show?

The novel opens with a chapter called, "David." It is written in first person, and the character is a young man, a baseball player who didn't quite make it in the big leagues, and so seems a bit confused at this point about who he is, what are his other talents, how might he make himself useful in life. I assumed (correctly) that this was Wood writing. I had never read his work before, but by end of the first page, I determined I would. He opens:

"When the winter was over and my nightmares had passed, when someone else's mistakes had become the subject of local gossip, I set out for the island. I made my way in increments, although the town was all of eighteen miles square. To the bluff overlooking the tidal flats. Down the broken black road to the water's edge. To the bridge where her car was found, overturned like a turtle and buried in mud."

Introduced to David Greene, we then move to chapters titled Judith, and these are written by Piercy. Interestingly, these are not in first, but in third person, giving the reader perhaps more intimacy with David, more distance from Judith. And the story does seem to revolve more around David.

David is attracted to the older Judith Silver, a very strong and independent, intellectual woman, a lawyer married to Gordon Stone. Immediate comparisons come to mind to the autobiography I just read by Piercy, Sleeping with Cats, in which we learn that she was married when she met Wood, that her then husband condoned, even at times encouraged her affair with Wood, who seem to have more confused feelings on the issue. In my review of the autobiography, I pointed out that every work by an author is to some degree autobiographical, and so we see the similarities here, too. In fact, I found it especially interesting reading the two books side by side.

Back to the story: it is a weaving of several threads, coming together in this small Cape Cod town, where everyone knows everyone's business. We meet Johnny Lynch, a powerful local politician, corrupt and yet at times benevolent, entrenched in his place of leadership and not about to let go. Opposing his views on the town's welfare, Judith Silver and Gordon Stone nudge David into position to run for town selectman.

Adding intrigue and complexity to this scenario is the evolving affair between Judith and David, the quickly spreading cancer that ravages Gordon's body, the arrival of the pinup style young woman, Crystal, who plays sweet and sexy, but is deep-down damaged, using her feminine wiles to manipulate David. Crystal is driven by her need to have a man in her life, and she aims for David to fill that need. She has a young son, Laramie, whom she uses unabashedly to pull on his heart strings and tie him down with guilt trips and parental obligations. Whether because of his youth, or simply that he is too easily seduced and led around by his anatomy, David becomes perfectly entrenched in Crystal's honey-sweet trap. Seeing this Achilles' "heel" in his new political opponent, Johnny Lynch uses Crystal against David to the very end, and to disastrous results for all, even the young boy.

The book is a fast reader, a true page turner. The contrasts between characters are especially fascinating: Judith, the sharp and smart, mature woman--and Crystal, the loopy pinup girl with nothing to offer but her body (and riddled with jealousy over the older woman); David, the young baseball player turned politician with good intentions but capable of the most ghastly mistakes--and Gordon, the dying man who has been there, done that, and is ready to pass his wife along almost like so much property as he nears his final days. Indeed, that can be the most puzzling part. While Judith professes open relationships, she quickly enough withdraws her favor from David when he grows too involved with Crystal. She explains it away as somehow different when David protests that she, after all, is a married woman, but it is not convincing and difficult to follow her logic. Everybody wants to be first to someone. And then there's Johnny, an old letch when it all comes down to it, using Crystal at first for political strategies, but then deteriorating to being just one more horny old toad who wants a piece of that. Here, tragedy truly unfolds.

Not one of my favorite Piercy books, but all in all, in the top few. I enjoyed the interwoven stories and characters, the collaboration between two writers--including the interview with the two at end of the book. Their work blended seamlessly, two masters crafting their work into one, a shared success.

~Zinta Aistars for The Smoking Poet, Spring 2010 Issue

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Zinta Aistars ()
Ranked #134
I am the creative director, writer and editor at Z Word, LLC, and correspondent for southwest Michigan's NPR affiliate station, where I do on-air author interviews.
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Incendiary small-town politics and lethally tangled passions are the focus of this clunky, bloodless collaborative effort from two authors who have each produced better solo work. Piercy (City of Darkness, City of Light) and her husband, Wood (Going Public), have created an irresolute protagonist in David Greene, once a local baseball legend who has now returned to the Cape Cod hamlet of Saltash in disgrace, leaving behind a failed minor league career and a broken marriage. His prospects are dim until he begins an unlikely affair with Judith Silver, a beautiful, talented lawyer whose husband, the eminent professor Gordon Stone, owns an eclectic island compound and is the town's leading progressive politico. Not only does Gordon condone the affair, he joins Judith in persuading David to run for a key seat on the board of selectmen. Their opposition is led by Johnny Lynch, an old-fashioned political boss who has controlled the town for decades. Since David is a congenital pawn with an overactive libido, he can't resist further complicating his situation by also having an affair with desperate, volatile Crystal Sinclair, who works for Lynch; and these oddly lifeless sexual complications combine with meteorological disaster for a predictably bad end. The authors aim for a tale of consuming political and romantic passions with David at its center, but his character is too weak (and the supporting players are too wooden) to execute this tricky game plan. Histrionics aside, ...
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ISBN-10: 0449001571
ISBN-13: 978-0449001578
Author: Marge Piercy
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Ballantine Books
First to Review

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