Excerpt: Erika Swyler’s “The Book of Speculation”


the book of speculationThough the cover doesn’t make it seem much like a fantasy book, Erika Swyler‘s The Book of Speculation seems like an fantastic tale woven around an old family curse, mermaids and the circus. It’s not really like most of the other books on offer in the genre right now, but it definitely seems like an interesting read.

I recently came across an excerpt of this new fantasy novel that peaked my interest even more. See if you feel the same after reading the first chapter below.

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And before you get excited, this book isn’t available for purchase just yet. The release date is June 23rd.

Chapter One, June 20th

Perched on the bluff’s edge, the house is in danger. Last night’s storm tore land and churned water, littering the beach with bottles, seaweed, and horseshoe crab carapaces. The place where I’ve spent my entire life is unlikely to survive the fall storm season. The Long Island Sound is peppered with the remains of homes and lifetimes, all ground to sand in its greedy maw. It is a hunger.

Measures that should have been taken—bulkheads, terracing—weren’t. My father’s apathy left me to inherit an unfixable problem, one too costly for a librarian in Napawset. But we librarians are known for being resourceful.

I walk toward the wooden stairs that sprawl down the cliff and lean into the sand. I’ve been delinquent in breaking in my calluses this year and my feet hurt where stones chew at them. On the north shore few things are more essential than hard feet. My sister, Enola, and I used to run shoeless in the summers until the pavement got so hot our toes sank into the tar. Outsiders can’t walk these shores.

At the bottom of the steps Frank McAvoy waves to me before turning his gaze to the cliff. He has a skiff with him, a beautiful vessel that looks as if it’s been carved from a single piece of wood. Frank is a boatwright and a good man who has known my family since before I was born. When he smiles his face breaks into the splotchy weathered lines of an Irishman with too many years in the sun. His eyebrows curl upward and disappear beneath the brim of an aging canvas hat he’s never without. Had my father lived into his sixties he might have looked like Frank, with the same yellowed teeth, the reddish freckles.

To look at Frank is to remember me, young, crawling among wood set up for a bonfire, and his huge hand pulling me away from a toppling log. He summons memories of my father poised over a barbecue, grilling corn—the smell of charred husk and burning silk—while Frank regaled us with fishing stories. Frank lied hugely, obviously. My mother and his wife egged him on, their laughter frightening the gulls. Two people are now missing from the tableau. I look at Frank and see my parents; I imagine it’s impossible for him to look at me and not see his departed friends.

“Looks like the storm hit you hard, Simon,” he says.

“I know. I lost five feet.” Five feet is an underestimate.

“I told your dad that he needed to get on that bulkhead, put in trees.” The McAvoy property lies a few hundred yards west of my house, farther back from the water with a terraced and planted bluff that’s designed to save Frank’s house come hell or, literally, high water.

“Dad was never big on listening.”

“No, he wasn’t. Still, a patch or two on that bulkhead could have saved you a world of trouble.”

“You know what he was like.” The silence, the resignation.

Frank sucks air through his teeth, making a dry whistling sound. “I guess he thought he had more time to fix things.”

“Probably,” I say. Who knows what my father thought?

“The water’s been coming up high the last couple years, though.”

“I know. I can’t let it go much longer. If you’ve got somebody you trust, I’d appreciate the name of a contractor.”

“Absolutely. I can send someone your way.” He scratches the back of his neck. “I won’t lie, though, it won’t be cheap.”

“Nothing is anymore, is it?”

“No, I suppose not.”

“I may wind up having to sell.”

“I’d hate to see you do that.” Frank’s brow furrows, tugging his hat down.

“The property is worth something even if the house goes.”

“Think on it some.”

Frank knows my financial constraints. His daughter, Alice, also works at the library. Redheaded and pretty, Alice has her father’s smile and a way with kids. She’s better with people than I am, which is why she handles programming and I’m in reference. But we’re not here about Alice, or the perilous state of my house. We’re here to do what we’ve done for over a decade, setting buoys to cordon off a swimming area. The storm was strong enough to pull the buoys and their anchors ashore, leaving them a heap of rusted chains and orange rope braid, alive with barnacles. It’s little wonder I lost land.

“Shall we?” I ask.

“Might as well. Day’s not getting any younger.”

I strip off my shirt, heft the chains and ropes over a shoulder, and begin the slow walk into the water.


If you enjoy this excerpt, there is more on this site.

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