Mercy of the Tide, The By Keith Rosson, 283pgs.

I’ve said it before… Razorcake: where the people you admire most are also your friends. Keith’s writing has been in most issues of Razorcake. He’s one of my favorite record reviewers. We’ve read our short stories together. I’ve been a fan of Keith the writer and Keith the human being for years. Yet nothing had prepared me for how exceptional his debut novel would be or how much it would affect me.

The setting is a small coastal Oregon town in 1983. It’s best to not go into plot details. It’s a book that’s best read with fresh eyes. However, I will say this is a book about grief. There is a momentum to the novel which utilizes the subdued hysteria that constitutes living with grief. The little ruptures in sanity and the wake they produce through the mundane tasks of getting through a day. The crippling awareness of personal faults and their interwoveness in the lives and wellbeing of others which mourning produces. It also stands out in its treatment of children and of disability (one primary character is a young deaf girl). There is no condescension or belittling of kids’ experience. Equally, there’s no false sense of heroism or tragedy in disability. Instead, you find a portrait of a child that could only have been made by someone who has spent time with children and learned from them, who understands that children can be fiercely intelligent, and that disability is a feature and not a singular definition of their experience. And that portrait is emblematic of the rest of the characters.

The Mercy of the Tide is at once familiar and disorientating. The familiarity comes from the setting and the suspense: something strange is afoot in a small town where anything but small characters find themselves pitted against both the numinous and earthly forces of evil and human fallibility. What’s disorientating is Keith’s infusion of class consciousness and unmitigated compassion into the familiar. This infusion is accomplished without a soapbox or heavy-handed moralizing. In fact, it really doesn’t have anything to do with the novel’s premise, but is inseparable from my enjoyment. The infusion is there because that’s how Keith experiences and sees the world. It’s not a matter of authenticity; things can be “real” and also shitty. Rather, the characters and the world they inhabit express what’s important to me with a sensitivity and subtlety that’s rare. And that’s what novels should do: allow us to slow down and highlight the foundational elements of our lives which go unsung, misinterpreted, or simplified. The Mercy of the Tide is intense and beautiful, epically sad yet restorative like all great novels are. Affirmation in every sense of the term.

Highly recommended. —Matthew Hart (Meerkat Press, meerkatpress.com, Atlanta, Georgia)