"She Never Told Me About the Ocean is a tidal and intimate book, brimming over with wonders and terrors and the watery echoes that bind generations of women. What a pleasure this book is from start to finish. McKetta maps the dark portals through which her women continuously reinvent themselves, newborn at every age."―Karen Russell, author of Swamplandia! and Orange World and Other Stories
Told by four women whose stories nest together, She Never Told Me about the Ocean is an epic about a rite of passage that all humans undergo and none remember: birth.
Eighteen-year-old Sage has been mothering her mother for as long as she can remember, and as she arrives on the shores of adulthood, she learns a secret: before she was born, she had an older brother who drowned. In her search to discover who he was and why nobody told her, Sage moves to tiny Dragon Island where her mother grew up. There, she embarks on a quest to learn the superstitions of the island, especially its myths involving her mother. Gathering stories from Ilya, a legendary midwife who hires Sage as her apprentice; Marella, Sage’s grieving mother who was named for the ocean yet has always been afraid of it; and Charon, the Underworld ferrywoman who delivers souls to the land of the dead, Sage learns to stop rescuing her mother and simply let go. But when her skill as Ilya’s apprentice enables her to rescue her mother one final time, in a way that means life or death, Sage must shed her inherited fears and become her own woman.
"The imaginative reworking of the mythology of death and the afterlife creates a remarkable mode for examining love and loss. McKetta uses language with an artistry that evokes sensory experience . . . The quality of suspended reality is beautifully apt for a tale focused on and inspired by water, the ocean, and swimming, and for McKetta's thematic progression from suffering to awareness, acceptance, and transcendence."―Booklist
"What starts as a simple story slowly spools into more and more the deeper you dive . . . Besides the surprises and emotional heft in this book, you can’t forget the writing. It’s apparent from the first few pages alone that McKetta is a poet and she flexes these muscles well, while still bringing you a breezy read."―Idaho Press
"I’ve always admired the writing of Elisabeth Sharp McKetta, and her beautiful, ambitious first novel demonstrates why. She Never Told Me about the Ocean is a heroine’s journey through forgiveness, birth and rebirth, all the while treading the line between honoring the dead and feeling paralyzed by them. She has offered us a complicated portrait of mothers and daughters, cupped inside one another like nesting dolls."―Arthur Golden, author of Memoirs of a Geisha
"A superb enchantment showing the richness of ordinary life and the permeability of life’s margins. We meet those who help us enter into this world and those who can hinge into the world beyond. With stunning perceptions and captivating language McKetta brings us a brilliant reimagining of the myth of Charon along with much forgotten knowledge from the provinces of healing and herbalism."―Grace Dane Mazur, author of The Garden Party
"An inherently absorbing and fully engaging read from cover to cover."―Wisconsin Bookwatch
"She Never Told Me About the Ocean is an aria for mothers. There is a kindness and love that runs through this story; it just sits in the background and breathes."―Lesley Bannatyne, author, Halloween expert, and Bram Stoker Award nominee
"With luminous, aqueous prose, Elisabeth Sharp McKetta tells a story of healing and resilience through relationships, work, and a journey of self-discovery. Readers of all ages will be enchanted."―Kim Cross, author of What Stands in a Storm
"A kaleidoscopic story of mothering and daughtering, wrought with all the myth and wisdom and flaw and singularity that accompany them. She Never Told Me About the Ocean weaves everything I thought I knew about these sacred relationships into a something else, a glimmering tapestry revealing a truth so difficult to keep hold of in the waves of our days: that every one of us is at once mythic and startlingly human."―CL Young, author of Rose of No Man’s Land and founder of Sema Poetry Series
Elisabeth Sharp McKetta was featured in Harvard Magazine: How Myth and Memoir Intertwine
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Elisabeth Sharp McKetta grew up in Austin, Texas. She holds literature degrees from Harvard, Georgetown, and the University of Texas at Austin and teaches writing for the Harvard Extension School and the Oxford University Department for Continuing Education. She is the author of eight books: We Live in Boise, Energy: The Life of John J. McKetta Jr., Fear of the Deep, Fear of the Beast, Poetry for Strangers Vols. I and II, The Creative Year: 52 Workshops for Writers, and The Fairy Tales Mammals Tell. She Never Told Me About the Ocean is her first novel. Visit elisabethsharpmcketta.com to learn more.