Before I tell you about a great book, here’s a funny, sick story for you.
When I first went to the Puget Sound all those years ago, my Aunt and I rediscovered the Northwest Territory in her lime green VW Beetle. We traversed one Idaho mountain range over many more until we had reached the Pacific Coast.
We camped at the Hoh Rainforest in Olympic National Park. It was creepy in our little tent. I am convinced after a couple more days, the vines would have hugged our tent, and the primordial forest would have swallowed us whole.
The starfish were plentiful on the beach. We gathered about twenty, and I put them into a pillow sack and put them in the trunk. I had plans to dry them out and take some home with me as a souvenir.
Our goal was to kayak by San Juan Island and visit Victoria, British Columbia.
Under an emerging sun, the lime green VW Beetle carried us north. By ten, we noticed a strange smell. By noon, we both were gagging. “What is that awful stench?”
The starfish got the last word. We opened the pillow case and the starfish had melted into a glob of putrification.
They have the texture of rocks and they don’t look alive, after all, they don’t wiggle around in your hand. I also learned I was supposed to boil them first like lobster and then lay them out to dry.
Several years later, I find I’m working as a cook in a kitchen in Maine. When it came time to pull out the lobster from the tank and put him in the boiling pot to fulfill an order, I kept seeing starfish in my mind, and I couldn’t do it! It was the only time I was ever let go from a job….
Snow Falling on Cedars
The strength of David Guterson’s 1995 first novel, Snow Falling on Cedars is how he creates characters by their relationship to the setting. The story takes place on an island in Puget Sound with fog and cedars and strawberry fields. The characters are attuned to the ebb and flow of the tide, aware of the cycle of strawberries, and efficient in utilizing the resources of the island to exist in a harmonious community. However, disharmony in the form of a murder trial invades the quiet island. Set in in post WWII, racism pervades between whites and Japanese.
The central location of the story takes place in a courthouse where Kabuo Miyamoto is on trial for the murder of fisherman, Carl Heine. As the trial unfolds, flashbacks show the cyclical pattern of time. For instance, Guterson isolates one Japanese family’s immigration to America through the cycle of raising strawberries. Miyamoto is a tenant worker on the property of Heine, and the planting of the seeds accompanies the story of their family’s passage to America. As the strawberries grow, so too, does the relationship between the two families. World War II erupts and racism ignites. Japanese families are interred and an arrangement is made to sell the land to Kabuo Miyamoto, the Japanese farmer. The strawberries are harvested. A murder occurs. I don’t want to tell you the ending. Guterson’s sensitive weaving of two families and their history tied around the setting is marvelous. I highly recommend it.
The 1999 film version is worth watching, too. Directed by Scott Hicks (Shine) and starring Ethan Hawke, Yourki Kudoh and Reeve Carney, it’s the cinematography that makes the film strong. Robert Richardson won several awards. The score is lovely by James Newton Howard. Here’s a trailer if you want a peek.
I would go for the book first.
Oh, if you visit the Puget Sound, leave the starfish alone in their natural habitat where they belong.