Excerpt from Beyond That, the Sea by Laura Spence-Ash, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Beyond That, the Sea

A Novel

by Laura Spence-Ash

Beyond That, the Sea by Laura Spence-Ash X
Beyond That, the Sea by Laura Spence-Ash
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2023, 368 pages

    May 7, 2024, 368 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Maria Katsulos
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About this Book

Print Excerpt

The present's hardly there; the future doesn't exist. Only love matters in the bits and pieces of a person's life.

In the beginning, there was the nursery, with windows opening on to a garden, and beyond that the sea.



Back then, Beatrix liked to sit next to Mr. G when he rowed them all to the mainland. She would watch the town come into focus, the buildings growing larger, the white steeple in relief against the bluest sky. This was in Maine, where the family went each summer, and it was during the war, although that was hard to remember when they were there. Mrs. G often wore a pink or yellow sundress, her pearls tight round her neck, and she squawked about getting wet as William and Gerald splashed each other with water. Mr. G would roll his eyes and half-heartedly tell the boys to stop, his glasses spotted with sea salt, his tanned arms moving the oars forward and back in a smooth rhythm. When they got close, he would hand Beatrix an oar, and they would row, together, to shore.

Once a year, they ate at the small restaurant in town that was located at the end of the dock. They sat at the same table every year, a corner table with five seats facing the water. This way, Mrs. G said, they could all watch the sunset sky change over the island, their island, the sharp spikes of the evergreens set off by the pink and orange streaks, before the trees lost their edges as the sky grew dark. Not once, in the years that Beatrix was there, did the weather on this night disappoint. She was struck, whenever she saw the island from the mainland, by how different it was when seen from afar. It was beautiful, a blurry patch of green, caught up between the ocean and the sky. It was also so small that she could hold it in the palm of her hand. When they were on the island, though, she was the one who was small; it was her whole world. It was as though nowhere else existed.

They ordered clam chowder and corn on the cob and lobster. Baked potatoes still in their tinfoil wrappers, the heat escaping from a vertical slice across the top. The first summer Beatrix was there, the boys started to crack open the hard, red shells as soon as the plates were in front of them. Gerald was so excited that he was standing rather than sitting, and William was the first to find some meat, tipping his head back to catch the drips of butter. Beatrix slowly tied her bib, watching, and then took a swallow of water. Mr. G nodded at Mrs. G, who was seated next to her, and she patted her on the leg before she set to work on her lobster, pausing to let her see exactly what she was doing, so that she could do the same.

But that was all in the past. Tonight, alone in this seaside restaurant, Beatrix orders the lobster as the waitress lights the votive candle on the table. When the lobster arrives, she ties the bib around her neck, watching her reflection in the dark window. In August, she turned thirty-four. Twenty years have gone by. She often finds it hard to reconcile the girl she was then with the adult she is now. They seem like two separate people. For so many years she has tried to forget. She smells the cuff of her jacket; the ocean has nestled into her clothes. She can hear the waves crashing onto the shore. This place—a town on the Firth of Forth, just outside Edinburgh—is flat, the wind rough. Islands and rocky outcroppings are scattered offshore. There's a wildness to it that reminds her of Maine. If she closes her eyes, it's almost as though she's there.

She'd come back from her trip to America in early September and thrown herself into work. The new school year started in a blur, someone always needing something from her, days when she might as well have slept in her office she spent so little time in her flat. In October, when she could finally slow down, she realized she felt adrift. Unmoored. Seeing the Gregorys in America, standing with them in the graveyard, had brought everything back—the five years that she spent there, the family she called her own for that briefest of moments. The grief at losing them. The grief she had worked so hard to bury. There she was, back in that familiar house, in that kitchen that smelled of lemon and cinnamon and butter, feeling Mrs. G's arms wrapped around her neck, her whispers in her ear. Once again she hadn't wanted to leave, and once again she had. She had lost them all over again.

Beyond That, the Sea Copyright © 2023 by Laura Spence-Ash. All rights reserved. For information, address Celadon Books, a division of Macmillan Publishers, 120 Broadway, New York, NY 10271.

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