Tag Archives: On Such a Full Sea

On Chaeng-rae Lee’s “On Such a Full Sea”

23 Jan
Check out Chang-rae Lee's newest novel, On Such a Full Sea.

Check out Chang-rae Lee’s newest novel, On Such a Full Sea.

I haven’t posted a review in a couple of weeks now, and you can all blame football for that. My beloved Seahawks are going to Super Bowl XLVIII, and they need my full attention during post-season to make it. In fact, you can all thank me and my absolute devotion for the win against the 49ers this past Sunday. After all, I own a Richard Sherman jersey. That being said, I have been as distracted as one of Chang-rae Lee’s fictional B-More residents in On Such a Full Sea, with their vids and shows and mind-numbing routines. Lee’s dystopian sci-fi veers slightly from the fare of his previous novels and reminds me a lot of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale: both set in a futuristic, dystopian, American setting, and both written with a straying, almost whimsical style. But through a futuristic, crumbling America, Lee addresses familiar issues: human resilience and the art of story telling.

An unnamed narrator begins weaving the story of Fan, a young B-Mor resident who raises stock fish, and her quest to find her missing boyfriend, set in a landscape of a ruined America. The narrator is presumed to be some distant relative of Fan’s (being that B-Mor is a whole city built on massive family clans, it’s safe to say), and the story that he/she tells begins to grow to an epic scale. Fan leads a quiet life with her boyfriend Reg and a house full of cousins and uncles and aunties. Even on a day-to-day basis, though, the narrator sees something of a hero in her, and when Reg suddenly disappears, Fan trades the protective walls of the city for the open, dangerous counties and the citizens she leaves behind turn her into legend. They idolize her and her lost boyfriend. While Fan only dreams of the fish tanks where she felt most at home, all of B-Mor dreamed of her heroism.

To Fan, diving in the fish tanks is an act of self-control, and depriving herself of air for minutes at a time is a kind of transcendence.

To Fan, diving in the fish tanks is an act of self-control, and depriving herself of air for minutes at a time is a kind of transcendence.

On Such a Full Sea is strongest in its commentary on story telling, the development of legends. Fan is only known through the eyes and ears and speculation of the narrator and B-Mor’s Fan-atic (you like that?) residents. As I read, I realized everything I knew about Fan, her odyssey across the impoverished countryside, the various strangers–good and bad–that she meets along the way, even her love for and devotion to Reg, are all fabrications and projections of the story teller. Because of the reader’s distance from Fan, however, I never felt attached to her in any one or truly invested in her plight the way B-Mor’s Fan fans clearly were. Her character, while interesting, wasn’t easily understood or empathized with, and by the end of the book (no spoilers) I felt the need to go read something more captivating. The beginning of Fan’s quest is exciting, gruesome in some parts, and absolutely entertaining, but this mood tapers off in favor of more speculation, and Lee’s attempts at more shocking futuristic features falls short. This is book for people looking for a gentle read or something to spark no small amount of discussion, but I couldn’t bring myself to add a fourth star on Goodreads, if you know what I mean.

Author Chang-rae Lee graduated from University of Oregon and now teaches creative writing at Princeton, so I guess you could say he's doing well for himself.

Author Chang-rae Lee graduated from University of Oregon and now teaches creative writing at Princeton, so I guess you could say he’s doing well for himself.

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