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The Light Pirate


The Light Pirate

Lily Brooks-Dalton, the bestselling author of GOOD MORNING, MIDNIGHT, returns with THE LIGHT PIRATE, a stunning work of literary fiction that takes a harsh look at our climate crisis and asks, “What’s next?”

For years, Americans have heard the statistics and predictions about its coastlines and rising waters, with the Florida Panhandle --- both as a result of its location and the cruel jokes about its residents --- leading the rest of the country as the most likely candidate for sinking into the sea. But no one is prepared when hurricane after hurricane devastates the coast, even lifers like Kirby and his pregnant wife, Frida, both of whom have witnessed the power of these unpredictable storms firsthand.

When we meet the couple, Kirby is dutifully collecting sandbags and wooden boards to protect their home. As a lineman who brings electricity back to their small town of Rudder, he feels confident that they can wait out the storm. But Frida is not so sure. She is still reeling from the loss of her mother after a hurricane struck the coast of Puerto Rico where they were staying. Although she trusts Kirby, she has greater faith in the sheer violence of nature.

There is a crackling tension in the air, one that is mirrored by the spark of life growing inside of her; for the first time, she feels like she understands the need to evacuate. The impending storm is reflected in the couple’s quiet argument and in the careful blending of their family: stubborn Kirby and his two angry sons, Flip and Lucas, anxious Frida and her tenacious unborn daughter. When the power goes out and Kirby is called to help his community, he does not know that it is the last time he will see his family whole. But then no one can truly predict the course of a storm or its effect on the lives of the people who survive it.

"Both an urgent reminder of the various crises that our planet faces and a tender meditation on change and adaptability, THE LIGHT PIRATE is one of the best, most sobering and downright gorgeous novels I have read in quite some time."

By the next morning, Kirby has lost Frida and a son and gained an unusually strong daughter. His wife’s last words instructed him to name the girl Wanda after the storm that pushed her into the world. Even though he senses that this is a bad, dangerous decision, he cannot ignore her dying wish. Unfortunately for young Wanda, her name becomes a painful reminder of the most destructive storm to hit the Florida coast in recent memory. Her own arrival into her family reminds Kirby of his powerlessness and the grim realities of a country that has ignored its climate crisis for too long.

By the time Wanda is 10, Florida has changed drastically. Not only have the rich who populated its beachfront homes left, the tourists have stopped coming, and the memories of brightly colored umbrellas and reliable infrastructure are long gone. As the population shrinks, so too does the government’s interest in maintaining Rudder. Although the citizens of Miami have been offered buyouts to relocate north, no one is coming to save small towns like Rudder…or the families who have called it home for generations.

Kirby knows in theory that the careful life he has carved out for his family cannot last. But he also knows that he is not ready to leave Rudder --- and the ghosts of his loved ones --- behind. And when it comes to Wanda, the daughter he left motherless when he put too much confidence in himself and not in nature, he knows that there is something special --- something truly, purely Floridian --- about her, and he is not sure that she could survive or thrive anywhere else.

When yet another tragedy takes hold of the family, Wanda meets Phyllis, a survivalist whose once kooky preparations have now become common sense. For the first time, she starts to flourish as she learns the ins, outs and secrets of the Florida Panhandle --- from the smells of its ozone to the startling lights that appear when she enters its waters and the whispers that accompany them. There is something wild and magical about Wanda. Even though it does not fit into the realms of science or the supernatural, she knows that to understand her gift, she must stay in Florida even as it collapses around her, bearing witness to the foolishness of man and government and the beautiful violence of nature.

Both an urgent reminder of the various crises that our planet faces and a tender meditation on change and adaptability, THE LIGHT PIRATE is one of the best, most sobering and downright gorgeous novels I have read in quite some time. Right from the start, Brooks-Dalton immerses readers in the tension and immediacy of an approaching storm, employing the crackling energy not just in the atmosphere but also in her characters’ inner lives. The metaphor may seem overly simple or cliched, but it's only the foundation for this emotionally poignant look into their motivations, fears and dreams. The characters, most notably Kirby, are self-aware but not unrealistically so. They are flawed but move in such fluid, natural ways that it seems impossible that they were created out of thin air.

And of course, there’s Wanda. For each of her characters, Brooks-Dalton chooses every single word, characteristic and plot point carefully. But when it comes to Wanda, she writes with one of the most memorable, driven voices I have ever read, combining it with the magic of youth, awe and a touch of magical realism. The result is a startling gut-punch of a character as unforgettable as WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING’s Kya or even TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD’s Scout.

The climate crisis that Brooks-Dalton explores in a near-future Florida is sobering and full of a heightened awareness. However, what makes it so impactful is that it is not startlingly futuristic or even apocalyptic, but rather a vivid representation of what we already know is inevitable but choose to ignore. The combination of a real-life natural disaster and the tragic, human disasters that upend Kirby’s family is painful to read. But Brooks-Dalton is able to cast sweeping, grandiose themes like climate and grief into such simple, easily digestible passages that to lift your head and still see a flawed world around you seems like an unimaginable shock.

I highlighted passages furiously as I read, and every time I paused to think, I was forced to wonder: How, when authors like Lily Brooks-Dalton are able to distill such crucial themes into such beautiful passages, are we still ignoring the realities around us? There is a point in the novel when Kirby realizes that the end of society as he knows it is inevitable, and he thinks, “They had all hung their hats on the question of proximity. Yes, it will be bad, they’d said to one another, but we have years. We have time. Somehow we’ll solve this along the way.” I can think of no better way to summarize how this book will invigorate and inspire readers to take note of the changes happening around them.

A searing call to action that is as daring as it is luminous and moving, THE LIGHT PIRATE is an instant classic and a damning portrait of our time.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on December 16, 2022

The Light Pirate
by Lily Brooks-Dalton

  • Publication Date: April 16, 2024
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • ISBN-10: 1538708280
  • ISBN-13: 9781538708286