Listen as MFA creative writing professor Michael Parker reads the first few pages of his new novel, The Watery Part of the World.
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Audio Transcript: MFA creative writing professor Michael Parker reads the first few pages of his new novel, The Watery Part of the World.
I'm Michael Parker. I teach at UNC Greensboro, and I'm going to be reading from The Watery Part of the World, my new novel. I'm going to read from the first section, which is from the point-of-view of Theodosia Burr Alston, Aaron Burr's daughter.
The day Whaley came for her she had spent among the live oaks, huddling and shivering in the squalls of frigid rain. The low tight trees provided tolerable canopy, yet eventually the driving rain came at her sideways. No protection from its furious winds. The coast brought out the worst in rain. What a few miles inland would have been restorative, replenishing, here seemed unutterably desperate. The hues, or, rather, hue, of the landscape exacerbated the loneliness, for everything turned the dun color of wet sand. Even the dull green of the live-oak leaves. Especially the roiling ocean.
Hours in the wet sand. She knew she needed to rouse herself and stroll the beach, for that was where they would be searching for her, the party her father would have sent to rescue her, but she could not summon the strength to abandon her paltry shelter. Her shivering turned the supplications she repeated into stutter. But her father heard. Late in the day he came to sit with her. He covered her in blankets, pulled dry wood from a satchel. He made her a cup of tea. Cakes and fresh strawberries. Don't speak, child, he said when she tried to form syllables unbroken by shiver, tried to tell him how she had come to be abandoned on this island: how the ship she'd boarded in Charleston to visit him in New York hit high wind and rough water off the Outer Banks of North Carolina; how she'd left her maidservant retching below deck and made her way topside to find even the captain ashen and unsettled; how, through the wind-slanted rain, Theo had spied a blinking, had pointed to the ship and they'd made for it, only it wasn't a ship but a lantern tied to the head of a nag by thieves luring ships to the shallows; how, when Theo was brought above deck by the men who boarded the ship and presented to their leader, Daniels, she had refused to let go of the portrait she had brought along to present to her father upon his return from exile in Europe; how the woman in the portrait had spoken to her and how she had spoken back to the woman, who was no longer a reasonable likeness of her but her protector and savior; how she had screamed her name, her father's name, what stray phrases entered her head: I do not love my husband the governor I am the empress of Mexico not a ship at all but the head of a nag; how Daniels, disturbed by her outburst, had deemed her touched by God, and spared her life. How this was the moment Theodosia Burr Alston died, and the woman who spent her days scouring the beaches for the glint of a bottle, a sheet of parchment curled within, her father's beautifully slanted hand visible beneath the sea-clouded glass, was less born than unsheathed, for who was she all along but a fraud incapable of the simplest virtues.