Book Feature: The Glass Ocean by: Lori Baker

Publisher: Viking Penguin

Publication Date: July 29, 2014

Book Links:  Book Website

Synopsis: Flame-haired, six-foot-two in stocking feet, eighteen-year-old Carlotta Dell’oro recounts the lives of her parents—solitary glassmaker Leopoldo Dell’oro and beautiful, unreachable Clotilde Girard—and discovers in their loves and losses, their omissions and obsessions, the circumstances of her abandonment and the weight of her inheritance. Thomas Pynchon calls debut novelist Lori Baker “a storyteller with uncanny access to the Victorians, not only to the closely woven texture of their days but also to the dangerous nocturnal fires being attended to in their hearts.”

Carlotta’s story begins in 1841, when Leo and Clotilde meet aboard the Narcissus, on an expedition led by Clotilde’s magnanimous, adventuring father. Leo is commissioned to draw the creatures of the deep sea, but is bewitched instead by golden Clotilde, beginning a devotion that will prove inescapable. Clotilde meanwhile sees only her dear papa, but when he goes missing she is pushed to Leo, returning with him to the craggy English shores of Whitby, the place to which Leo vowed he would never return.

There they form an uneasy coexistence, lost to one another. The events of the Narcissus haunt them, leaving Clotilde grieving for her father, while Leo becomes possessed by the work of transforming his sea sketches into glass. But in finding his art he surrenders Clotilde, and the distance between the two is only magnified by the birth of baby Carlotta.

Years have passed, and Carlotta is now grown. A friend from the past comes to Whitby, and with his arrival sets into motion the Dell’oros’ inevitable disintegration. In hypnotic, inimitable prose Lori Baker’s The Glass Ocean transforms a story of family into something as otherworldly and mesmerizing as life beneath the sea itself.

Author Bio: Lori Baker is the author of three story collections, including Crazy Water: Six Fictions, which won the Mamdouha S. Bobst Literary Award for emerging writers. The Glass Ocean is her first novel. She has taught fiction writing, journalism, and composition at Brown University, Boston College, and Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts. She lives and works in Providence, Rhode Island.

Excerpt: I write in retrospect, from the vantage of a distant shore.

Carlotta Dell’oro is my name; I am eighteen years old; mother I have none; father either. My hair is long, red, bright as a flame; I stand six foot two in my stocking feet; or would, except I am very seldom in my stocking feet, having planted my boot firmly on the backside of the new world – up to the hilt in it, in its mud and its much and its offal – a commitment of a sort; my hair, like a flame, has lit the new and savage shores, the hills, the craggy, wooded paths of this new world, coming now, briefly, to rest, in this bright, hard, hot, blue place. Here I rest; here I write.

Outside, beyond the screen, is a jeweled line where sea meets sky; a single tree trunk, bowed, elliptical, smooth as a rib, its shaggy top pendant with the brown, rough-skinned nuts of this land; there is a rustle of anoles; high-pitched alarm of cicadas winding up, then down then away, into deceiving silence. Before me, on the table are spread my father’s things, what was left of him, his diaries, his drawings, his letters. Of my mother I have nothing – just his drawings of her (many of these), a single roguish photograph, and memories – poor uncertain objects, from which to try to reconstruct a world.

Spiders stir in the high, bright corners above me as I write, knitting their webs; the fan ticks rhythmically, tock-tock-tock-tock; it does not stir the air; this is a hot place; innocent, relentless in its innocence; without shadows; remorseless in its brightness; begging to be filled in. From the other room, the room where I am not, comes the sharp, sudden creaking and croaking of springs, a screen door snapping, sharply, open and shut.

Carlotta? It’s time to go. Carlotta.

Her step is soft, compared to mine; her hair is still dark, supple, repelling reflection, like a raven’s wing. She has packed out bags, bought our tickets.


We are about to step off the edge of the earth together, she and I. It takes great faith, to do a thing like that, with anybody. Let alone with an orphan like me.

Reprinted by arrangement with Penguin Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA), a Penguin Random House company.  Copyright © Lori Baker, 2014.

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