Pearce Oysters: A Novel

Image of Pearce Oysters: A Novel
Release Date: 
June 25, 2024
Zibby Books
Reviewed by: 

“an enchanting, tenacious story of loss and resilience, and a vivid reminder of the fragility of our lives and environment and all the ways they are connected.”

“Jordan Pearce had left the boat’s cabin just as his father had arranged it, as if Al might step in from the heat and tell him where to head next. It was a good old oyster boat, built to purpose in 1972.”

That engaging opening sets the tone for Pearce Oysters, a remarkable debut novel by Joselyn Takacs. In just two wonderfully loaded sentences the author creates a sense of place and family history that is palpable.

Golden Vale, a small town along the salty, muddy coastline of Louisiana, is home to widowed May Pearce and her son Jordan, an oysterman. Benny, May’s younger son, is a musician in New Orleans who dabbles in political activism. After the death of their father, Al, Jordan has to run the family oyster business alone and a simmering resentment toward his brother deepens.

May Pearce always hoped both her boys would marry, live on the family compound, and harvest oysters with their father. But things didn’t go according to plan and five years after her husband’s death May still spends her days in a fog of grief, while Jordan struggles to keep the family oyster business afloat in the aftermath of the 2010 BP oil spill.

When the environmental disaster threatens to destroy the Pearce’s way of life Benny must return to Golden Vale to help Jordan save the oyster harvest. Forced to live and work together, the fractured family begins to face the past and consider the future.

The author skillfully depicts environmental hardship and oyster farming, but Pearce Oysters truly shines midway through the novel where there is more focus on May and Jordan. Here, Takacs forges a connection to the characters as she reveals their vulnerabilities, and mother and son come to life.

Throughout, the impressive reality of the setting transports readers into a world as craggy and beautiful as oyster shells. We can touch and smell the working waterfront and hear the scrape of tall grasses against the hull of Jordan’s boat as it glides across shallow waters and idles above shimmering oyster reefs.

“He felt most reverent about these mornings on the boat. The gold sunrise pulling back the curtain on the day and the water’s buttery softness. Green elephant ears lining the bayou bobbed in his boat wake. Turtles perched on cypress roots. A silvery nutria slinked into the water from the saw grass, and a water moccasin skittered across the gleaming surface. The churning motor, the smell of coffee and his first cigarette.”

Equally remarkable is the subtle, tender way in which Takacs keeps Al an integral part of the story. We come to know him well and understand the crushing blow dealt to his family by his untimely death. Though living together in the same house, Jordan and his mother grieve silently and separately—one for a husband, the other for a father, and Al’s presence is everywhere.

“Pressing her face into his hanging shirts—some of which were clean, others he’d worn just once or twice before the stroke—she smelled him alive again. Burnt earth, sweat, and the arboreal kick of his cologne—the scent of the arm that would search her out in the middle of the night.”

As Jordan navigates his oyster lugger through waters choked by oil, and his mother attempts to cope with all that has befallen her, their bewilderment is tangible. Pearce Oysters is an enchanting, tenacious story of loss and resilience, and a vivid reminder of the fragility of our lives and environment and all the ways they are connected.