Lungfish: A Novel by Meghan Gilliss

There was a lack of practical concern that ran in our blood.

Tuck and her little girl Agnes are squatting in her deceased grandmother’s house on an uninhabited island off the coast of Maine, empty bellied and lost, while her husband Paul attempts to detox. But addiction is a beast, and the island of her childhood summers may not be the most practical solution to their gathering problems. Her grandmother’s bookcase holds field guides, but is there enough food to salvage upon the land to sustain her growing girl, sick husband and herself? It’s like abandoning civilization and relying on blind faith, but in what? Her marriage? Her father isn’t missing but his whereabouts are unknown, and that poses a threat to her plan, as her grandmother left the house to him. It is her family’s norm, these disappearing acts, little unsolvable mysteries. His absence is much different from her mother’s own leaving which comes to light over time.

Together she and Agnes look for supper in the woods, anything to eat with the tides, on the shore, the rocks and Agnes’s hunger is an endless source of fear and worry on top of the undeniable fact that Tuck will have to find another place for them, before the cold arrives, or they are kicked out. For now, she is trying to keep them all from starving, supporting Paul and his idea that this place could be his salvation, save their family of three from his addiction. If not for the situation it would be like a vacation, a hands on education for little Agnes, but not like this. It will be an escape from Paul’s struggles in Pittsburgh (that was his pitch to convince her to go to the island), she wants to believe in him, to keep him from drowning. It’s her favorite place in the world, but without work there is no money, without money they cannot care for their child properly. How long can she ignore this stark reality? How far will she go for love, and does anyone really have the ability to save their loved one from themselves? It’s a common story, nothing unique about addiction, hunger, pain, disappointment, but the location makes for an original read. It’s a mad choice, but Tuck has run out of options. Not bad enough for help from the government, the country full of sad stories, maybe she isn’t a fool to think this could work.

She resents and loves Paul, it’s a dizzying concept. As she grapples with painful memories, feelings of rejection come ashore, a mother who was never solidly present, a father whose invention is the only reminder that he once lived in his mother’s house, her brother Conrad off living his own life, the family always alone. Is it that Tuck doesn’t want to surrender the only true thing she has created? She refuses to be the sort of woman who can’t take care of herself, who needs to rely on a man and yet, there is a fury in her that Paul isn’t helping provide, that he has gotten them into this mess. She wants, though, to forgive him his sins, to “be the sweet voice calling overtop dark thickets”, of the wrongness in his brain. It’s seductive, the thought that we can heal all the broken parts of those we love most. But his leaving, his choosing to fall over caring for his wife and child, it’s not turning out right. Their lives are going to hell.

How many days will he sleep, how long before Paul wakes up? How long before she wakes up? What will it take? What will it do to their curious, sweet little girl? Shouldn’t she try to save Paul for Agnes? Paul gives her a glimmer of hope, but will it last?

The beauty of nature, all the creatures that cling to underwater rocks, much like Tuck clings to hope, is so hard to stomach. Hunger can’t be salvaged by bedtime stories, faith, though Tuck tries, to keep light in her daughter’s heart. Bad weather is coming, will her marriage survive reality? It’s about loyalty, loneliness, motherhood, addiction, family dysfunction, mental health, and love. We accept lies for a reason, but there comes a time you must deal with the consequences of blindness. There is so much pretending, denial and need, it’s a family capsized. Beautifully written, it’s about choices and how easy it is to ruin it all. I love the title, Lungfish, it’s fitting. Tuck is a survivor.

Publication Date: September 13, 2022

Catapult

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