This is an incredibly depressing book. The Mercy of the Tide, huh? Should be called The Mercilessness of the… Pages. Or something. Jesus! It’s unrelenting, the bummers.
Great. Thanks. Great way to start an interview. And let the record show that I don’t entirely agree. It’s a downer at times, sure, but I think there are bright spots. And I don’t think it was an arbitrary decision the writer made. Like, “Ah, I’m just gonna make an unrelenting crapshow of four people’s lives for three hundred pages. Just for the hell of it.” It’s about story, you know?
Right, but you know what I mean. You seem pretty upbeat in real life, you know? Jolly enough dude.
But you and I know the torpor that lurks beneath, don’t we?
Eh. I know you’ve been waiting to use that word. Seriously though, this is just… I mean, there’s a monster in it, but the monster’s almost secondary. And it’s set in an alternate timeline in 1983-84 that’s very similar to our own, but even that’s almost beside the point.
Yeah. It’s about characters. Story.
Well, all four of the main characters – the book rotates from viewpoint to viewpoint – are struggling with grief. They’ve all lost someone. They’re all navigating through it best they can. It’s a character-driven book, man.
There’s a cop that’s kind of imploding as he tries to solve the mystery in this story. There’s a sheriff. A teen kid. And there’s a nine year-old deaf girl in it.
Trina Finster, yeah.
She’s a great character.
And she’s obsessed with the ensuing Cold War, mostly as a way of avoiding processing the death of her mom.
But you just said she’s a great character!
Did you actually do any research into what being a deaf kid is like?
I did. I did a lot of research on this book. There’s a lot of different avenues that needed covering: what opportunities for hearing-impaired kids there were in coastal Oregon in the ‘80s, the mythology of Native tribes of the Pacific Northwest, yield and dispersion patterns of different ICBMs, European nations’ responses to the looming stalemate between Russia and the US during the time period. It’s certainly possible I messed up on what being a deaf kid in Oregon was like in 1983, but it wasn’t for lack of study.
The setting, Riptide, seems like a fictionalized version of the coastal Oregon town you grew up in.
Yep. That was intentional.
Why? I mean, in general, what was the catalyst for the book? Why the coast of Oregon? Why 1983?
Honestly, Mercy started out a vastly different book. You mentioned that it’s an alternate history novel, but that much of that element of it is downplayed, which is true. But in the original version I started, the book was set in present day and the alternate history aspect was dialed waaaaaay up. But I kept thinking, “How did this world get this way? What happened to it?” So I had to keep backtracking, until I realized I needed to write a different book first. I had to start at the beginning. Which turned out to be in 1983. And it served as kind of a love letter to my hometown.
So what’s up with the ending then?
Keith, what’s up with the ending?
You’re not gonna answer, are you?
Probably not, no. Sorry.
Sigh. Okay. What’re you working on now?
I’m writing a book about a unicorn sighting.
Seriously though. What are you working on?
Seriously! It’s about a crypto zoologist and his reluctant assistant who travel to a made up island – more invention! – after someone sends them footage of a unicorn.
That’s gonna sell, like, ten copies.
Okey doke. Any last words?
Thanks to TNR for the platform. Thanks to the folks reading this. Read books! If you can buy them, please buy them, but also love your libraries and your friends’ book collections and let’s just all make sure we read. This is in and of itself a nearly subversive act these days. Thanks again.
KEITH ROSSON is the author of the novels THE MERCY OF THE TIDE (2017, Meerkat) and SMOKE CITY (2018, Meerkat). His short fiction has appeared in Cream City Review, PANK, Redivider, December, and more. An advocate of both public libraries and non-ironic adulation of the cassette tape, he can be found at keithrosson.com.