The Rathbones by Janice Clark is her debut. Whaling was such a hard occupation. Gone for years, years. How did the family survive, pay bills. One thing is sure this Penelope didn’t just wait on the Widow’s Walk. Our narrator, Mercy, is pro active and with her cousin, Mordecai, a bookworm who explores libraries and studies birds, as they seek out her father and brother. This is not just a book about whaling it is also about family, Moses Rathbone, his seventeen wives, and umpteen sons who followed their daddy’s trade for the next three decades and the Starks. Sperm as in whaling and child reproduction is a common word bandied about. I am reminded of Homer and Melville as the pages turn, however it is all Huck Finn meets Pippi Longstocking.
Mercy, is the daughter of the current Rathbone who has been at sea these past ten years. She and Mordecai set out to find him. They each share secrets of the family that they share while on their sea journey. Mercy is a student of the classics, hence the classical references, while at the same time this journey is liberally sprinkled with witty dialogue.
There is another family named the Starks, boat builders. The Rathbones and the Starks mingle and soon the next generation begins. Sons are taken by their Rathbone fathers to live “down below” and learn the art of whaling while the daughters stay with their Stark moms. The dads believe the daughters will marry fisherman while the mothers plan for their daughters to marry princes.
Mercy and Mordecai’s plans have changed as Mercy learns more about her family, dad, and others, while Mordecai languishes in his dreams, ignorance, and birds.
There is something to be said about living in the present and looking to the future, while letting the past be the past. Maybe we spend too much time with the past and too little with the future, forgetting about the present, thus letting life escapes us.