The Great Offshore Grounds
NATIONAL BOOK AWARD NOMINEE • A wildly original, cross-country novel that subverts a long tradition of family narratives and casts new light on the mythologies—national, individual, and collective—that drive and define us.
On the day of their estranged father’s wedding, half sisters Cheyenne and Livy set off to claim their inheritance. It’s been years since the two have seen each other. Cheyenne is newly back in Seattle, crashing with Livy after a failed marriage and a series of personal and professional dead ends. Livy works refinishing boats, her resentment against her freeloading sister growing as she tamps down dreams of fishing off the coast of Alaska. But the promise of a shot at financial security brings the two together to claim what’s theirs. Except, instead of money, what their father gives them is information—a name—which forces them to come to grips with a long-held family secret. In the face of their new reality, the sisters and their adopted brother each set out on journeys that will test their faith in one another, as well as their definitions of freedom.
Moving from Seattle’s underground to the docks of the Far North, from the hideaways of the southern swamps to the storied reaches of the Great Offshore Grounds, Vanessa Veselka spins a tale with boundless verve, linguistic vitality, and undeniable tenderness.
Veselka (Zazen) returns with a sprawling work of astonishing depth and scope about three siblings contending with poverty in the Pacific Northwest. Half-sisters Livy and Cheyenne, both 33, were told a "fairy tale" by their father, Cyril, when they grew up, that one of their mothers wanted children and the other wanted to chase the North Star, and both got what they wanted without marrying him. Veselka opens on Cyril's first late-in-life wedding, which the sisters, both broke and with no love for Cyril, attend for the free food and drink. They reunite with Kirsten, a biological mother to one of them, who raised both sisters and Essex, their adopted cab-driving brother. Cyril gives them information about the other mother, Ann, who agreed with Kirsten to let her raise both daughters, provided Kirsten not reveal the details of who belonged to which mother. The sisters drive to Boston, hoping to find Ann, but strike out. Livy then heads to Alaska, where she becomes a sailor's apprentice and protests offshore drilling; Cheyenne continues to pursue Ann; and Essex, desperately lacking direction, enlists in the Marines. Meanwhile, Kirsten gets a terminal cancer diagnosis and summons them for a reconciliation. Veselka blends fascinating details of seamanship, cab driving, and boot camp with intimate, spot-on descriptions of contemporary American poverty, such as Cheyenne being shuttled to the couch to make room for Airbnb guests when she's late on rent and selling plasma. This gritty and unsentimental work is compassionate, funny, and deeply human.