Synopsis: The Whiskey Sea is the prohibition-era story of Frieda Hope, the eldest daughter of a deceased whore who lives in a small shore town with her little sister, Bea, and Silver, a clammer/fisherman who took the girls in and raised them. Frieda grows up on the sea and falls in love with the ocean and their fishing boat. Desperate to escape the fate that befell her late mother, Frieda breaks with traditional gender roles of the time to become a boat mechanic so she can support her sister’s academic endeavors. When she’s offered an incredibly lucrative job on a rum-running boat, the rewards (and romance?) far outweigh the risks.
Characters: I really identified with Frieda. We’re both tough as nails badass bitches from small seaside towns who are majorly protective of our perfect, gradeful little sisters. Neither of us are traditional women. We’re tomboys, outliers, and dreamers. We both want to escape a small shore town past.
On the other hand, I really despised Bea. She seemed so aloof and ungrateful, lost in her fashion magazines and daydreams without doing a thing to help herself OR her sister. She provided a stark contrast to Frieda- perfectly feminine and diligently fulfilling gender roles around the house. I pictured her singing to the birds and mice like a Disney princess as she went about her chores.
Hawkeye, an older fisherman who skulks around the local bars and docks, presents Frieda with a nemesis, but this relationship is never fully developed or concluded. It’s inferred that he’s Frieda’s biological father, but she never suspects or accepts this possibility.
The focus of the story centers on Frieda’s unexpected feelings and relationship with Charles (aka Princeton)- a well-educated, wealthy do-nothing spending the summer at his parents’ beach house. Bored little rich boy craves excitement and so volunteers to help out on the rum-running boat Frieda works on. Against the core of her beliefs, Frieda falls for him knowing his intention to leave at the end of the summer and return to his richboy life in Manhattan. Princeton just wants to live dangerously, rum-running for fun, where Frieda and crew risk their lives almost nightly for a chance to escape poverty. This dichotomy creates most of the tension in the book.
Set in the prohibition era, rebellion presents as a major theme across all classes, from the rum-running boats in poor fishing towns to the speakeasies popping up around Manhattan. The country at large was rebelling against what they saw as an illegitimate law. Frieda, triggered by her own insecurities about her mother’s past, rebels against femininity, balking tradition and working hard to become the best, most respected boat mechanic around. She rebels against Silver’s desires for her future and Bea’s hopes for her as well. Her brand of rebellion ends up alienating her from most of society, just like her mother was. And good ole Princeton rebels against the “restraints” placed upon him by the expectations of upper class society.
Questions to think about.
What drew Silver, who was 25 at the time, to take the girls? He spent his life and resources on them and never married. Was he happy with his choice?
Who is Frieda’s father? Presumably Hawkeye as he’s the one who leaves flowers on her mother’s grave. How would that realization impact Frieda? Does she know and choose to ignore it to protect her heart and her hatred?