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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Sea came in at Midnight

Steve Erickson

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To purchase The Sea came in at Midnight

Title: The Sea came in at Midnight
Author: Steve Erickson
Genre: Novel
Written: 1999
Length: 259 pages
Availability: The Sea came in at Midnight - US
The Sea came in at Midnight - UK
The Sea came in at Midnight - Canada
La mer est arriv&ecute;e à minuit - France
Das Meer kam um Mitternacht - Deutschland

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Our Assessment:

B- : meandering visions of the apocalypse in our age -- a novel that tries too hard to seem profound

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Booklist A+ 1/4/1999 Michael Spinella
The NY Times Book Rev. A- 18/4/1999 Geoff Nicholson
The New Yorker . 7/6/1999 .
Rev. of Contemp. Fiction . Fall/1999 Trey Strecker
Salon A+ 21/4/1999 Sara Vowell
San Francisco Chron. A- 4/4/1999 David Lazarus
Time Out A 7/7/1999 John O'Connell

  Review Consensus:

  They loved it. Millennial book of the millennium, practically. (Note that we are baffled by the effusive and blind praise.)

  From the Reviews:
  • "Erickson's writing is ambitious and near flawless -- he perfectly contrives this modern myth of the fast-approaching millennium by creating a world where everyone is in search of her or his own millennial moment of salvation. In doing so, he may well have secured himself a place among the best of contemporary fiction writers." - Michael Spinella , Booklist

  • "(S)ome readers will find this book too vague, humorless and angst-ridden for their tastes. Erickson's fans, however, are prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt. If this is still not the great novel some of us are willing him to write, his struggles with disorder and mythmaking remain as beguiling as ever." - Geoff Nicholson, The New York Times Book Review

  • "For Erickson's characters, apocalypse is intensely personal. These traumatic events must be remembered as a part of the "ever-fluid, ever-transforming map" of identity. As the characters struggle to find meaning in their lives, readers trace the looping plotlines that link the characters and their stories in this tangled web of time, where the present exists in an uneasy balance between our dreams of the future and our memories of the past." - Trey Strecker, Review of Contemporary Fiction

  • "(T)his is one deep book. But the thing that grounds it, that keeps it from floating off into the stratosphere of chaos, is that the characters feel real. (...) Of all the millennial visions galloping into the marketplace this year faster than you can say "four horsemen," The Sea Came in at Midnight is likely the most challenging, and the most poetic." - Sarah Vowell, Salon

  • "The Sea Came in at Midnight (is) challenging and frustrating and, in the end, mysteriously satisfying -- a Chinese box of a book, in which the whole can be appreciated only as the sum of its eventually interlocking parts." - David Lazarus, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "(A)n astonishing, terrifying novel -- the scariest dream you ever had, relayed with unsettling (and technically breathtaking) respect for the leaps and elisions that make dreams what they are." - John O'Connell, Timeout

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Erickson's millennial novel has some promising pieces to it. It begins, pretty much, with the seventeen year old Kristin employed at (and living in) "one of the revolving memory hotels of Tokyo's Kabuki-cho section," telling her life story to a customer who just died. At memory hotels it is not sex but rather memories that are for sale. Kristin, who does not dream but does remember, is apparently fairly good at this sort of thing.
       Her odd history is revealed over the course of the book, the central but not the only story. Among the highpoints: her escape from a number of unusual situations, beginning with a mass-suicide, a millennial leap of two-thousand souls off a cliff on New Year's Eve. Only it was only 1,999 women and children that perished, because Kristin was supposed to be number two thousand but backed out at the last moment. Here, as elsewhere, her survival instincts kick in at the last possible moment -- dramatic effect that wears thin quickly.
       She hitched a ride away from that particular site with two women with secrets of their own. Eventually she answers a classified ad that leads her into a life as the sex-toy (of sorts) of an anonymous man. She just knows him as Occupant, though his own history eventually also figures in the book. The two of them live an odd sort of life together.
       It also turns out Occupant is an apocalyptologist, and he's made a great discovery:

... the new millennium, which he called the Age of Apocalypse, had not begun at New Year's Eve 1999 after all. (...) the true Age of Apocalypse had begun well before 31 December 1999, at exactly 3:02 in the morning on the seventh of May, in the year 1968.
       How does he know ? He was there. It's almost a fun little idea, with Erickson getting to weave in all the proofs of the apocalypse -- all the terrible and bizarre things that have happened since then which, listed as they are in the book, certainly make it sound as though these were already apocalyptic times.
       Occupant has an Apocalyptic Calendar that circles his room, a "sky-blue mural blotting out the windows and overflowing the walls onto the floor and ceiling." The dates are not sequential, the calendar not linear, -- and it never sounds too convincing except as a literary device.
       There are diverse strands of the far-flung story that get tied together. Paths and lives cross, connected mainly by the far-travelling Kristin. Among the figures are the husband and wife filmmakers, Louise and Mitch, (wonder how they might be related to Kristin ... ?) who produce the first "snuff" film (in which an actress gets killed in front of the camera). Their snuff film was, in fact, a hoax, but it spawned lots of truer-to-life imitations. All the copycat filmmakers -- and Mitch -- get themselves "mysteriously" killed, and then Louise goes looking for absolution and redemption by buying (and stealing) all the existing copies of the original film.
       Then there are all these satellite dishes, painted black. And people who can't dream and can't stop dreaming, and a cartographer, mapping the world (but unable to find his way around), and the kinky Japanese with their memory hotels, and Occupant's own past. And so on.
       The ideas aren't half bad -- well, some of them are pretty bad, but it is material that something can be built out of. And Erickson is generally a decent writer, who one would expect to be able to mold a decent fiction out of such stuff. This, however, does not fly. Generally it just thuds, thwarted by its own ambition.
       This is what Erickson's book comes to:
       Everyone is his own millennium, he says.
        Everyone is his own age of chaos. Everyone is his own age of apocalypse.
       No, she says, there is no age of apocalypse. Everyone, she says, is his own age of meaning.
       Bonus points for not cringing !
       Philip K. Dick could pull off this sort of book, and even someone like Jonathan Carroll could do enough with the strands to keep us engaged. Erickson fails because his ambition is way too lofty -- far beyond his means. He doesn't want to write a P.K.Dick or Jonathan Carroll-type book -- he wants to be profound. And that is, to date, a talent he lacks. The results are not deadly -- the ideas are fun, and they keep coming as he veers from place to place, and the writing is fairly solid -- but they are disappointing.
       The best scene in the book is, not surprisingly, a tossed-off aside, about Madrid in 1975, as Franco lies dying. Here, briefly, Erickson captures a scene and a piece of history perfectly -- only to undo it just as quickly with the bigger picture that particular narrator finds himself in.

       One tries to give Erickson the benefit of the doubt with what he is trying to do here, but neither the grand concept nor the mumbo jumbo is convincing. The effort to appear deep and meaningful is embarrassing, because, in fact, there is so little depth to the book. Some resonance, yes, -- the pieces aren't bad -- but he tries to make too much out of too little, and the sum winds up being even less than the parts. A millennial dud.

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Reviews: Steve Erickson: Other books by Steve Erickson under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       American author Steve Erickson was born in 1950. He has written several fairly highly acclaimed novels.

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