... densely plotted, interweaving overlapping story lines and points-of-view ... The result is a deeply moving picaresque in which Veselka examines conditionality as a state of being. Placing her characters at the mercy of events, she evokes the feeling of a floating world, pushing back against the forward movement of the novel in favor of something more circular. The tension this creates is provocative but familiar. There are no epiphanies here, only the small (and sometimes not so small) upheavals Veselka’s characters must navigate ... even as hope yields piece by piece to disappointment, it never fully evaporates ... That gut-punch of a scene establishes the seesawing action of the novel, built out of situations that appear at first off-kilter, even whimsical, before revealing darker strands of abandonment and risk ... Veselka traces these arcs with empathy and an earthy sense of humor but also with a ruthless eye. She is a remarkable writer, able to break through the surfaces of her narrative to reveal the animal chaos underneath ... In its way, that merciless truth of the universe represents a sort of mercy, and it makes The Great Offshore Grounds a saga of acceptance, which is to say a book of life. I don’t want to give away too much because one of its abiding pleasures is discovery.
... for all its sweep and ambition, The Great Offshore Grounds mercifully remains driven by its characters’ personal travails, as opposed to the sometimes muddled socio-historical commentary with which they are interspersed. Veselka has an intuitive sense as to when she should break away from the big picture and home in on the little person ... Crucially, Kirsten, Livy, Cheyenne, and Essex’s subsequent misadventures are compelling in and of themselves, irrespective of whether they serve to highlight the rapacity of unchecked neoliberalism or the growing hole in America’s social safety net. Rather than subordinate her protagonists’ experiences to a larger narrative, Veselka patiently waits for a chance to make a connection between one and the other. And far from concluding matters, such dovetailing opens up new and dangerous vistas for her characters. This is arguably the novel’s finest feature ... The result of all this is, to be sure, an overly diffuse story. Yet the fact that The Great Offshore Grounds does not break apart under the strain is testament to the author’s careful handling of her characters’ peregrinations, whether land-bound or maritime ... Just when it looks as though the story will unravel, Veselka spools it back into itself, often by temporarily merging two characters’ trajectories.
This is a novel that feels like hitchhiking: The route is unpredictable but fated and exciting, with an air of treachery. If you relate to the idea of desperate people doing desperate things for reasons only partly clear to themselves, you will find it thrilling.
With so much going on, the narrative can feel overwhelming. The muddled meaning of family, and of extreme individualism within a family, are compelling themes that Veselka deftly explores. The characters have chaotic interiorities, which are both jarring and strangely poignant ... The portrayal of the choices one must make when living paycheck to paycheck in late capitalist America is realistic and devastating, especially when it comes to medical decisions ... This is a thorny book. Veselka is a talented writer, with sensual imagery and an unflinching ability to stick with troubled and troublesome characters. However, the book falters in some important ways, especially around race ... The book often seems to undermine its anti-capitalist narrative by engaging in the casual racism and stereotyping rooted in that capitalism ... the added layer of these historical ties almost overloads an already ambitious book ... a twisty, dense novel. Despite the many side characters, the four main characters are well developed and the messy relationships they have with one another ring true ... While the novel perhaps meanders too often, and though some characters fall short, this novel shines in its exploration of motherhood. The deeply moving and nuanced mother narrative is a rewarding journey in itself. Also satisfying is the parallel emotional evolution of the sisters, however flawed it remains ... On balance, this is a compelling, sometimes frustrating and disturbing novel that realistically portrays poverty and messy family dynamics. Its settings are vivid and will be recognized by many Seattle-area readers. Its structure is sprawling, its emotional beats hard-won. But like the characters at its center, it leaves some important things unexamined.
The book starts out strong ... But what starts out as a thrilling, focused tale of badass sisters busting up their origin story in order to chart a more empowered course for the future soon devolves into a series of unnecessarily outlandish and often unrelated or left-unfinished events that undermine the novel’s resonance ... Thankfully, in contrast to the piled-on nature of large chunks of the book, some sections in The Great Offshore Grounds do feel authentic. Aside from the opening scenes, the parts involving Essex, his stint in the Marines and his evolving relationship with Cheyenne are both appropriately nuanced and well-developed ... Unfortunately, as with many things in life, this bighearted but meandering book — like its characters — suffers from just too much baggage.
Veselka has a keen eye for social class ... And motherhood, a theme she wields sharply to highlight the precarious existence of people living on the fringes. A fitting story for our times of families trying to stay together despite all odds, redefining their own relationships along life’s perilous journeys.
... a sprawling work of astonishing depth and scope ... Veselka blends fascinating details of seamanship, cab driving, and boot camp with intimate, spot-on descriptions of contemporary American poverty, such as Cheyenne being shuttled to the couch to make room for Airbnb guests when she’s late on rent and selling plasma. This gritty and unsentimental work is compassionate, funny, and deeply human.
Veselka takes a kitchen-sink approach to the novel: Points of view shift kaleidoscopically, passages of history and politics are woven into the questlike narratives of the characters. The result is a fiery and occasionally luminous chaos that feels true to the experiences of those for whom each day is lived at the edges of mainstream society ... An energetic, if messy, examination of the push and pull between freedom and belonging.