Wednesday, May 20, 2009


A dark story with twisted familial relationships, two dead cats, and a very serious sunburn. I'd forgotten that "Sea" is the same story that my mother later renamed "The Hottest Night of the Century," one of her most well-known short stories, and the eponymous story of the collection she published in 1979. But it first appeared under the shorter title in Lies and Stories.

A family (father, mother, older daughter, younger son) lives in a beautiful, but rundown, sea-side house. Sounds nice, no? No.

The relationship between the father and the daughter (our narrator) is tangled and unpleasant, yet compelling. You can't look away, though you cringe (at best). The two are alike: odd, quiet, drawn to the sea. The father rejects his daughter again and again. He favors her cheerful younger brother, who escapes the dark family as soon as he can, at the age of 15, and only sends a rare postcard home.

Though this is not a "true" story from my mother's childhood, I see how she has reworked personal experiences: the flasher that she saw as a child and being sent away by herself to a "holiday home for children" in the Blue Mountains. Here these are fictionalized, used as puzzle pieces to fill out a different girl's story.


  1. I first read this story back in the 1970s and I've always had a soft spot for it (if one can have a soft spot for such a prickly story). Here's a piece I wrote about it a few years ago:

    Best wishes.

  2. I enjoyed reading your piece, Chris. And you make some observant points--not just about the stories but about the bio (I am that daughter--and it was just the two of us, though my father lived in the city, too). Thanks for sharing it.