The Light Pirate
Grade : A

In 1977, my family moved to South Florida, to an ocean front town an hour north of Miami. We bought a house on a spit of land in between the Intracoastal and the Atlantic Ocean, both of which were a few blocks walk away. Even then, the expensive high rises that lined the shore lost beachfront every year.

The coasts of Florida, and indeed much of the American Southeast, are meant to shift and change as the ocean's currents ebb and flow. As Lily Brooks-Dalton writes in the mesmerizing The Light Pirate, the buildings we place on these lands are:

Structures that belonged to an old paradigm. A series of rooms built upon a series of ideas, none of which had withstood the test of time: the idea that what was here would always be here; the idea that the limestone beneath their feet would go on holding them forever; the idea that the coast was a faithful, unmoving line in the sand. None of this was true anymore. The thing was, it never had been.

The Light Pirate is set further up the coast from where I grew up but the landscape, ravaged by ever stronger hurricanes, tropical storms, overdevelopment, and feckless politicians, is the same. The novel, begins on the eve of an immense hurricane named Wanda. Many leave the state, headed North where, perhaps, nature is less punishing, but one family--a lineman named Kirby, his pregnant wife Frida, his sons Lucas and Flip--stays in the fictional town of Rudder, sure that this storm, like the many that have come before it, is the safest place for them. Their faith, like that of those who believe we can master the natural world, betrays them and, after Wanda, their lives as well as those of all who live in Florida, are cataclysmically changed.

The novel is split into four parts—Power, Water, Light, and Time--and each segment moves the narrative forward in time. In the second, Water, the novel narrows its focus on, Wanda, a girl named for the storm in which she was born. It's ten years after the events in Power and Wanda and her family now live in a state slowly being abandoned by the government. Kirby and Lucas spend their days repairing faults in a power grid that constantly breaks while Wanda attends an elementary school whose population drops every month. Wanda spends her afternoons with their neighbor Phyllis, an ecology professor who is also a survivalist. It is Phyllis who sees the truth of the world they live in and the skills she imparts to Wanda insure that Wanda, as Florida and indeed the world is remade to Nature's will, navigates a path to the future.

This future, one in which whole nations have vanished and where climate refugees must move constantly, is grim. But the life that Wanda and Phyllis make for themselves is not. Life, even in a dystopian world, is bettered by love and connections with others. As the story moves through the years of Wanda's life, she endures although the world in which she lives is a harsh one, where one mistake can mean death and where trusting others is an risk.

I read this book in a day. When I turned the last page, I found myself in tears, not because the ending is tragic but because it is not. For though The Light Pirate limns a not-so-removed world, one we rightly fear, it is a story of hope and resilience. Woven through its warnings is the belief that we can survive, even thrive, if we have one another. Wanda, mysteriously, causes the water she touches to glow--hence the title of the book. Brooks-Dalton's prose is commensurately dazzling. Yes, she tells us, it is too late to go back to the world we imagined with its power grids, mega dams, and concrete lands. But, if we open ourselves to the world as it is, to others as they are, our future mayhap still gleam.


Reviewed by Dabney Grinnan
Grade : A
Book Type: Fiction

Sensuality: Kisses

Review Date : March 17, 2024

Publication Date: 12/2022

Review Tags: climate change

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Dabney Grinnan

Impenitent social media enthusiast. Relational trend spotter. Enjoys both carpe diem and the fish of the day. Publisher at AAR.
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