In an interview with The Guardian, Ottessa said she wrote this during her MFA course at Brown, “Looking back I’m astonished that I wrote it, I think it’s an astonishing book.” Indeed it is.

Incoherent, poetic rambling from the mouth of a sick alcoholic (McGlue) jailed for killing his best friend, Johnson. Parts are very very violent, leaving me shuddering. But overwhelmingly you’re drawn into the dream world of McGlue as he frets below-deck of the ship in a haze and ensconced in a Salem jail once he’s on shore. He keeps yelping for Johnson, not believing that he’s dead.

“Right,” I said, but it didn’t feel very right. I didn’t want to make it. I wanted to lie down with it and strangle it and kill it and save it and nurse it and kill it again and I wanted to go and forget where I was going and I wanted to change my name and forget my face and wanted to drink and get my head ruined but I certainly hadn’t thought about making it.

The language is just unstoppable:

I’ve not seen Johnson in too long. He comes and goes in my mind’s eye and still he hasn’t come to my lock-up down here in the boat to cool my nerves, my hot snake brains they feel like, slithering and stewing around, steam seeping through the crack in my head.


Me, peddling my legs around Salem like a windup doll looking for a glass teat to suck. “We’ll go,” he said. “I’d even pay my way.” But he didn’t have to try hard to get a job on that ship, and with him me too. Looking like a stowaway I made onto that ship the day of departure with Jonson clearing a path for me, like a prince. “He’s not feeling well,” was his explanation for why I was stained with wine, stumbling, smirking and raising a finger to say something, then forgetting and stumbling on.