Stunning, hypnotic, spare, The Seal Wife is the masterly new novel by Kathryn Harrison, “a writer of extraordinary gifts” (Tobias Wolff). Set in Alaska in 1915, it tells the story of a young scientist’s consuming love for a woman known as the Aleut, a woman who never speaks, who refuses to reveal so much as her name.
Born and educated in midwestern cities, Bigelow is sent north by the United States government to establish a weather observatory in Anchorage. But what could have prepared him for the loneliness of a railroad town with more than two thousand men and only a handful of women, or for winter nights twenty hours long? And what can protect him from obsession—obsession with a woman who seems in her silence and mystery to possess the power to destroy his life forever, and obsession with the weather kite he invents, a kite he hopes will fly higher than any has ever flown before and will penetrate the secrets of the heavens?
A novel of passions both dangerous and generative, The Seal Wife explores the nature of desire and its ability to propel an individual beyond himself and convention. As she brilliantly reimagines the terrain of the Alaskan frontier during the period of the First World War, Harrison, a “master of her material” (Mary Gordon), also evokes early efforts to chart the weather and reveals the interior realm of the psyche and emotions—a human landscape that, in its splendor and terror, is profoundly and eerily reminiscent of the frozen frontier and the storms that scour its face.
From the Hardcover edition.
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|Title of eBook: The Seal Wife|
|Release Date: 12-18-2007|
|Allowed Countries (hover)|
|Publisher: Random House Publishing Group|
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|Parent title||The Seal Wife|
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The Seal Wife
HE IS TWENTY-SIX, and for as long as he’s lived in the north there has been only the Aleut woman. Several evenings a week he comes to her door with a duck or a rabbit and she asks him in. Not asks, exactly. She opens the door and steps aside so he can enter.
She lives in a frame house hammered together fast out of boards and tar paper, a house like all the others in Anchorage, except it isn’t on First or Fourth or even Ninth Street; instead it is off to the east, marooned on the mud flats. But she has things in it, like anyone else, a table and two chairs, flour and tea on a shelf, a hat hanging from a peg. She wears a dress with buttons and she cooks at a stove, and the two of them eat before, and then after she sits cross-legged in the tub and smokes her pipe.
She smokes, and he watches her smoke. He thinks her mouth may be the most beautiful part of her—not red, not brown or mauve or pink, but a color for which he has no name. Her top lip is finely drawn, almost stern; the bottom one is plump, with a crease in the center. On another face its fullness might be considered a pout, but her black eyes convey none of the disappointment, nor the invitation, of such an expression.
She is the only woman who has allowed him to watch her as intently, as much and as long, as he wants, and the reason for this comes to him one night. She is self-possessed. There is nothing he can take from her by looking.
At the thought, he gets up from the bed and goes to the window, he rests his forehead on its cold pane. She possesses herself. How much more this makes him want her!
Then, one day, it’s over: she won’t open her door to him.