A review of

A Seahorse Year

by Stacey D’Erasmo

Central question: How does a teenager’s mental illness change the lives of the members of his family?
Format: 368 pp., hardback; Size: 5.5” x 8.25”; Price: $24.00; Editor: Elaine Pfefferblit; Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Co.; Book designer: Robert Overholtzer; Text typeface: Minion; Approximate height of the printed drafts of this book, at its tallest point: About two feet. Representative sentence(s): “What Tamara honors in Christopher is that he is a person of two elements, earth and water. He can exist in either one, like an otter—he believes that. Or, he seems to believe it with what Tamara has come to think of as his other mind, his shadow mind.”

The world is divided into invisible particles of earth, air, fire, and water, claimed poet-philosopher Empedocles: the warring powers of Love and Strife create good and evil as Love brings the particles together and Strife forces them apart. Hippocrates connected the four elements to the bodily humors, an idea seized on in the middle ages and carried into the present. Stacey D’Erasmo, in her rich, complex new novel, A Seahorse Year, uses the elements to illuminate characters driven by Love and Strife, desiring both intimacy and escape. D’Erasmo hints at the traditional elements and humors, and also creates a new set—Blood, Breath, Bone, and String. Each of the main sections of the book is named for one of these new elements, and each connects to a moment of terror, waste, or hope.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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—Sarah Stone

Sarah Stone is the author of The True Sources of the Nile, and the coauthor, with Ron Nyren, of Deepening Fiction: A Practical Guide for Intermediate and Advanced Writers, expected later this year from Longman. She teaches in the graduate writing program at New College of California.

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