Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore

I painfully made my way through this, limping toward the end. Oh no, is she really going to tell us about another dream she had? Yes, yes she is. Once again subjecting us to a dream sequence to squeeze out some more pseudo poetics on the topic of rising sea levels. Ugh.

A few parts were worth reading, but most of the book was submerged in awkwardness. There is a delicate line to walk when inserting yourself into the telling of a story like this, which she ignored and trampled on. Parts were downright uncomfortable, like the recounting her arrival at an old man’s trailer in Pensacola. He’s black, and this makes her afraid. In her head, she apologies to him “Sorry for momentarily fearing you, the man I met when I arrived unannounced, because all I could see at first were the differences between us,” e.g. that he has a festering wound on his leg and lives in a dark room and is a poor, elderly, sick black man. As she leaves, another silent thought, “This man will not hurt me.” If you’re not already jumping out of your skin and cringing, she twists this and makes Alvin, the black man, the safe one, but the researcher she’s with, Samuel, the predator who sexually harasses her. These two intruders to Alvin’s world also force him to divulge how much his Social Security check is each month ($1300) and how much he’s paying for flood insurance ($605). Alvin seems to be under the impression that they’re trying to sell him more insurance and they don’t try to correct him before traipsing out the door towards “the promise of dinner.”

Another uncomfortable moment, in Louisiana—she approaches one of the Indians who are living on a disappearing island and immediately launches into a tale of how she just left her fiancé and how that loss is similar to his loss of land. (She later acquires another boyfriend but mention of him is used with the nails-on-chalkboard label “lover.”)

The book’s purpose is supposedly to tell the story about how rising sea level is affecting various people across the U.S. When those characters are allowed to speak without her inserting herself into the story, it works. When she inevitably shows up to unfurl her purpley prose, it flops.

One thing of note— I’m always interested in the various connections between books I’m reading. Rush mentions Bernd and Hilla Becher, the photographers who captured photos of Germany’s industrial wasteland. I’ve seen their work and was reminded of it recently by reading the book for Rineke Dijkstra’s retrospective. Susanne Lange’s book about the couple is already heading my way.