Shark Dialogues by Kiana Davenport c. 1994 (480 pages—Penguin)

A sweeping tale that spans generations and blurs the lines between people. This complex story swirls around Pono, an ailing grandmother who has hidden her husband and true love (Duke, a regal Hawai’ian who contracted leprosy) from her daughters and grandaughters for many years. Pono’s girls were raised by a single mother who fiercely played the role of both parents, never indulging her girls, knowing they must be strong if they are to survive. In the opening of the novel, Pono’s granddaughters gather around her to learn the truth about their family history, which is stitched together in a series of flashbacks that comprise the bulk of the book. Issues of identity, prejudice, and loyalty figure prominently into “Shark Dialogues.” Davenport’s prose is rich and expressive; its rhythms accelerate and build the tension in this masterful novel.

Sentences Worth Studying

  • “In that large, restless house of water-haunted sunlight, the kitchen was where they discovered their real history. Stories heard from Run Run, the cook, drugged them, startled them, fleshed and shaped their evolution. As she talked, her hands were busy whacking bloody chicken parts, dripping grease from laulau, cheroot of dried cuttlefish hanging from her lips” (7).
  • “Years of physical pain were reducing her to a life of the mind, which, increasingly, Ming felt was the only reality in this imagined world” (19).
  • “Flukes grinding back and forth somewhere in the depths their song became a symphony vibrating and they suddenly pressed close so close they looked like giant godly Siamates and they drove themselves up and up and rising out of the water all of them the massiveness the length of them high high into the blue above from blue below and they were blue and blue oceans sluicing down their sides and joined yes and joined and everything all earthly things were small and they just stood there in the sky a young boy’s memory and then they dove back down into other atmospheres a deafening resounding roar that shook the timbers of the ship and shook the hearts of watching men and threw them to their knees” (31).
  • “If, on solitary evenings, she brooded over a tiny jade book with faint Empress fingerprints, and if she thought of its companion volume lying in another’s hand, and the warmth of that hand, it was only in the way one remembers a met glance, someone glimpsed who ghosts through our lives forever” (59).
  • “Waves lapped her gently, hair floating round her a phosphorescent net. She swam slowly, thoughtfully, befitting the pace of an old woman. She swam through Circadian troughs of night and into a purple hour, and looking back she saw, like points of pure yearning, the volcanic tips of Hawai’i” (73).
  • “She turned her back on the old century, taking with her a memory of dueling in-laws, her mother’s astonished, dying gaze. And striding along beside that memory, the image of a doctor coming late, too late, because they lived in what whites now called slums” (77).
  • “Some days Pono was frantic, talkative, all stark energy with the center drained. Running barefoot along jagged edges, beautiful and starved-looking, she grew angry, moving fastest when he moved least, coxing him, bullying him. Other nights, she was eerily quiet, and he knew she had dreamed” (114).
  • “They would have their history, she knew it, and prepared herself, little tributaries of hate filling the basin of her brain. One night she dreamed of him, his massive arms encircling, obliterating her” (121).
  • “Her juices. Her rhythms. Her honor. Lodged somewhere in the grottoes and arches of his spine” (128).
  • “Down down where life was rhythmed by reflex she held her fingers out and they clasped hands floating in a circle squinting like embryos dreamily acknowledging each other in a giant womb and in that floatingtime a timeless time none of them hurt no one was damaged or frightened or alone they were just cells connected by a stroke of light . . .” (157).
  • Slowly the land becomes lush and green and mystic, the air cool, smell of cooking fires, guava, frangipani and soil, deep, rich soil” (184).
  • “Some nights he dreamed of Ming, her lovely face shriveled into a hag, little mama-san sitting in the sun, polishing her new metal legs, then standing, goosestepping proudly . . . Old mama-san, blown into stars of flesh, a human galaxy, outside Hoi An. Occasionally he thought of ending it, there seemed so little of real value left for him. Rubbing the stock of a hunting rifle, he thought how a simple bullet would ease him to the other side, help him get from here to there a little faster—like taking a jet” (224).
  • “And she thought how theater, costumes, little tricks gave their lovemaking the aspect of piety. Yet there was nothing pious in it, it was fantasy, escape, what people did to beat back fear, beat back waves of lonely respiration” (264).
  • “She watched the easing of night, sly coming of dawn, and hung her head exhausted, thinking of her grandmother, the rest of the women in this house, each one such a raw, unique event, they seemed a miracle. Their frailties, conspiracies, their private deaths. There is so little left. We must not brutalize each other” (288).
  • “Ming’s face was frightful, nothing left but eyes on stalks, her mouth uncertain as the rash accrued. Her hair was a prodigy of white spiders. Trapped in that awful grotto of bone, she seemed the lining larva of the dead” (310).
  • “Tall, muscular, wiry, smelling of sweat, grass, steer and saddle, and mountains and myth, this man, vessel of their youth, looked terribly injured, old” (314).
  • “Rachel sat up as if a bell had clanged inside her. She could feel each moment’s passing, like electric shocks, knowing she could never recreate this wholeness, this magic, with anything of equal weight. She would have to learn the lesson every day: that, sometimes, all that will define a person—instill within them dignity and purpose—all the human answers, are frozen for a few moments, a few days, and all the days to come are just a looking back” (356).
  • “Vanya embraced her, feeling they were girls again. They held each other silently, held and seemed beheld in shafts of sunlight going dim and dusty, like messages from a god who had begun to vacillate” (415).
  • Mine has been a life of running. And why, I wonder, why? What is in the distance that will heal me? She dropped her head, saw Pono running through time, shattering the years like glass, a woman of heat and light, scathed, nearly broken, but running on, sizzling through the clear paralysis of mediocre lives” (432-433).
  • “He was aware by Vanya’s silence how that remark had cut. And he thought of her side of the island, the Kona side. Soft showers draping steep-sided valleys, drifting through banana and papaya groves, then turning into hard legs of rain that marched down to the sea and were resurrected as rainbows, like bright spent but implacable warriors climbing up the hills toward home, and flooded taro patches iridescent in sun, and lotus fields like heads of newborns, and smoke of poignant little cooking fires coming up the hills, and dusk, a certain moment when everything turned into fiction, him startled like he was startled now, remembering the first night she brought him to the house, roads gleaming sacrificial-red from coffee cherries, and coming up the drive, smell of fertilizer, soil, coffee, ginger, guava, flowers exploding all about in Gypsy-colors, the house so white, so old, so definite, enfolding this high-strung mournful feverish clan” (438).
  • “And she continued talking, sometimes her words shrinking to the embryo of words, deciphering, reconstructing her life on the basis of sounds. She talked until the years, the memories were exhausted, then she lay down in their cave and slept, like a woman who had spent days stalking mammoths” (463).
  • “Most people sought a blindingly passionate, transcending love, the one impossible and tragic. At the same time they wanted a less perfect, more prosaic love, one that got them through the day-to-day. She brooded over this, wondering if it was age, or just fatigue that took away large appetites, left us desiring a life predictable and kind. Was wanting less the first step down the road to dying, or to wisdom?” (475).

About Kelsey Maki

writer and English professor
This entry was posted in book, fiction, novel, sentences, Uncategorized, writing. Bookmark the permalink.

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