On the day of their estranged father's wedding, half-sisters Cheyenne and Livy set off to claim their inheritance. It's been years since the two have seen each other. But the promise of a shot at financial security brings the two together to claim what's theirs. Except, instead of money, what their father gives them is information--a name--which both reveals a stunning family secret and compels them to come to grips with it.
... 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.