I have to admit that I was predisposed not to like Trevor Corson's
THE SECRET LIFE OF LOBSTERS. I know that I like to eat lobsters,
that I prefer not to cook them myself, and that I need to have
someone else help me crack the claws open to get out the meat.
That's about all I ever knew, or cared to know, about lobsters
before reading this book. I was skeptical that someone could
actually write a whole book about lobsters, let alone that I would
want to read it. That's why I was pleasantly surprised to find
myself enjoying this nonfiction book that is part scientific
mystery, part adventure story, and even part romance.
There are two main groups of human characters in Corson's book. One
group is the lobstermen of Little Cranberry Island off the coast of
Maine. These rugged men, many of whose families have been
lobstering for generations, work incredibly hard and understand
more about lobsters than just about anyone. They're also
surprisingly complex folks, some of whom hold degrees in economics
or marine biology or who dabble in painting.
The other group is the scientists who are dedicated to
understanding lobster habitats and behavior in the hopes of
swelling their population. These scientists alternate between
skepticism of the lobstermen's own theories for ensuring a healthy
lobster population and grudging respect for the lobstermen's
time-tested methods. The scientists are a quirky bunch, too. One
fellow plays a flute made out of a lobster claw, and one scientist
becomes a waitress --- at a lobster restaurant --- because it's the
only job that gives her enough flexibility to conduct her research.
In many ways, THE SECRET LIFE OF LOBSTERS is an account of how
these two groups, often at odds with one another, work over a
period of years to discover why --- and if --- the lobster
population is declining.
The third subject of Corson's book is the lobsters themselves.
Corson probes the creatures' habitat, their development, and even
their sex lives in minute detail. These sometimes violent and
graphic descriptions of lobsters' behavior are broken up into short
segments, alternating with accounts of the humans' own dramas. This
technique helps keep the reader from growing overwhelmed by the
amount of information presented. Occasionally, the author tries a
little too hard to draw explicit analogies between the lobsters and
their human counterparts ("Jack was a bit like a large lobster
himself."). The text is most successful when it allows readers to
discover the parallels for themselves.
These connections are rich, though, and the mystery of the
lobsters' survival is compelling. Even if Corson's book doesn't
answer all the questions it poses, it will make you appreciate your
next lobster dinner --- and the people who helped bring it to you
--- in a whole new way.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on January 23, 2011