In a future dystopian version of America, society is stratified into three kinds of people. There are those who are rich and live in Charter Villages. Then, there are small communities that provide the things that those in the Charter Villages need. Outside of those two, there is the vast rest of the country—where people live in abject poverty and crime is rampant. This story centers on the second of the three—a fishing and farming community named B-Mor (formerly Baltimore), where the descendants of the first immigrants from New China reside.
The anonymous narrator, seemingly speaking with the voice of the whole community, tells the story of young Fan, an expert fish tank diver who leaves the community after the mysterious disappearance of her boyfriend. Carrying nothing with her and without a plan, Fan is immediately beset with bad luck in the open countries when she is hit by a car and taken in to a small community led by a mysterious man who was once a rich resident of a Charter Village but was banished after losing his job and money. But her journey does not end there, as it leads her to people who are strange and dangerous, and only her wits and will to survive and find her boyfriend guide her.
On Such a Full Sea is a unique and well-written dystopian novel that connoisseurs of the genre will appreciate. Its mysterious, often foreboding language makes for some tense, nail-biting scenes. There is a good balance between action and philosophy, as the narrator takes a third person omniscient approach to analyze, foreshadow, and relate the events of Fan's adventure. However, at times the pacing of the book was slow and overly philosophical, making this more a work of literary fiction than a page-turner.
This said, there are some witty and humorous passages that are made even more comical due to the lofty, philosophical style of the narration, like the narrator's recounting of the re-discovery of the "hoodie," dug up from some video archives, which "transforms any respectable, demure person into a shifty, slump-shouldered gnome." I found the offbeat humor most engaging, especially because it's hidden between more philosophical quotes, like this one:
“If there is ever a moment when we are most vulnerable, it's when we're closest to the idea of the attained desire, and thus farthest from ourselves, which is when we'll tread through any flame.”Although it has some flaws, On Such a Full Sea is well worth reading for its great writing and unusual story, as well as its insights into society and individuality.