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Lungfish
Cover of Lungfish
Lungfish
A Novel
Borrow Borrow
Longlisted for The Center for Fiction 2022 First Novel Prize
"Lungfish is a force of nature—a deeply felt marvel of a book that navigates grief, parenthood, and the mysteries of family with unrelenting power and precision. Here is a story about the islands we build and carry with us. Here is storytelling at its best." —Paul Yoon, author of Snow Hunters and Run Me to Earth

Tuck is slow to understand the circumstances that have driven her family to an uninhabited island off the coast of Maine, the former home of her deceased grandmother where she once spent her childhood summers. Squatting there now, she must care for her spirited young daughter and scrape together enough money to leave before winter arrives—or before they are found out.
Relying on the island for sustenance and answers—bladderwrack, rosehips, tenacious little green crabs; smells held by the damp walls of the house, field guides and religious texts, a failed invention left behind by her missing father—Tuck lives moment-by-moment through the absurdity, beauty, paranoia, and hunger that shoots through her life, as her husband struggles to detox.
Exquisitely written and formally daring, Lungfish tells the story of a woman grappling through the lies she has been told—and those she has told herself—to arrive at the truth of who she is and where she must go. Meghan Gilliss’s debut is a brilliant and heartbreaking novel about addiction, doubt, marriage, motherhood, and learning to see in the dark.
Longlisted for The Center for Fiction 2022 First Novel Prize
"Lungfish is a force of nature—a deeply felt marvel of a book that navigates grief, parenthood, and the mysteries of family with unrelenting power and precision. Here is a story about the islands we build and carry with us. Here is storytelling at its best." —Paul Yoon, author of Snow Hunters and Run Me to Earth

Tuck is slow to understand the circumstances that have driven her family to an uninhabited island off the coast of Maine, the former home of her deceased grandmother where she once spent her childhood summers. Squatting there now, she must care for her spirited young daughter and scrape together enough money to leave before winter arrives—or before they are found out.
Relying on the island for sustenance and answers—bladderwrack, rosehips, tenacious little green crabs; smells held by the damp walls of the house, field guides and religious texts, a failed invention left behind by her missing father—Tuck lives moment-by-moment through the absurdity, beauty, paranoia, and hunger that shoots through her life, as her husband struggles to detox.
Exquisitely written and formally daring, Lungfish tells the story of a woman grappling through the lies she has been told—and those she has told herself—to arrive at the truth of who she is and where she must go. Meghan Gilliss’s debut is a brilliant and heartbreaking novel about addiction, doubt, marriage, motherhood, and learning to see in the dark.
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About the Author-
  • MEGHAN GILLISS attended the Bennington Writing Seminars and is a fellow of the Hewnoaks Artist Residency. She has worked as a journalist, a bookseller, a librarian, and a hospital worker, and lives in Portland, Maine. Lungfish is her first novel.
Reviews-
  • Library Journal

    April 1, 2022

    From Pushcart and Glimmer Train nominee Gilliss, this debut features a couple driven by debts from the husband's addiction to hide away on a deserted island off the coast of Maine, where they live illegally while trying to scrape together enough money to depart before the winter snows--or maybe the police--arrive. With the husband attempting to detox, the story is essentially the wife's, following her as she tends to their daughter, forages for berries and mussels, and struggles with the vast emptiness within and without.

    Copyright 2022 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    May 16, 2022
    Gilliss debuts with a pungent and riveting story set on a tiny, isolated Maine island. After Tuck’s grandmother dies, the family’s island house is left to her father, but he’s been missing ever since Tuck was in high school. Tuck’s family desperately needs a change from their “strange, failed home” in Pittsburgh, so she surreptitiously moves to the island with her husband, Paul, and her young daughter, Agnes. Once they arrive, Paul, who is addicted to kratom, an opioid herbal extract, goes through an excruciating detox. When he’s mobile, money disappears; when he isn’t, there isn’t enough food or gas, and the mainland is only accessible by boat. In memorable sequences, Tuck and Agnes forage for sustenance, stretching their diets over the summer to accommodate little more than seaweed and mussels (when Tuck throws a starfish back in the water, Agnes screams in hunger). Tuck also makes a bit of money by designing and printing comical bumper stickers, which she sells on the mainland. As she puts off telling the pesky executor about her father’s long-ago disappearance, she wonders if the family could make a go of it through the winter. Gilliss shines with a lyrical style and bold, fragmented structure, as Tuck’s frequent meditations on lungfish, which can go without food for three years and survive in “the hardest place, the intertidal zone,” contrast with her own predicament. Indeed, Tuck’s resilience makes her an indelible creation. Out of a tangible sense of desperation, Gilliss produces a triumph.

  • Kirkus

    August 1, 2022
    A young family in crisis returns to an isolated family property in an attempt to survive. Tuck's grandmother is dead, and Tuck knows she left her house--"halfway out to sea" on a tiny island in the Gulf of Maine--to Tuck's father in her will. The problem is that Tuck's father is missing and has been for years, having struck out for Mexico when Tuck and her brother were just teens growing up in Indiana. The other problem is that Tuck's life in Pittsburgh has fallen apart. She's disoriented by new motherhood, and, worse, her husband, Paul, is disappearing for long stretches at a time and draining their finances. Soon, they have no choice but to load up their Volvo with their toddler daughter, Agnes, and the meager possessions remaining to them and squat at the Maine property, hoping to stay one step ahead of the executor of Tuck's grandmother's will, who is searching for the rightful next of kin, Tuck's dad. Soon after arriving on the island, Tuck learns Paul's secret: He is addicted to kratom, an herbal extract that mimics opioids. While Tuck does everything she can think of to keep herself and Agnes alive, including foraging seaweed, mushrooms, and mussels from the beach, the threads of her past and present tangle in increasingly dire ways. Gilliss is an extraordinary writer; passages of her debut novel read like poetry, and others read like a lyric essay, making use of surprising juxtaposition and associations, especially ones--lobster, lungfish--that derive from the harsh setting in which Tuck finds herself. With some writers, such style can disguise plot weaknesses, but Gilliss sidesteps that, too: The peril the family is in keeps the pages flying. As startling and intense as the windswept landscape the book depicts.

    COPYRIGHT(2022) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Booklist

    August 1, 2022
    Circumstances have pushed Tuck, Paul, and their daughter, Agnes, to the point of mere existence. Wrung dry by hunger, they live on a remote island in the Gulf of Maine, squatters in a house passed down to Tuck's father by her grandmother. Compounding matters is Paul's recovery from drug addiction and his insensitivity to his young family's needs. Tuck's traumatic childhood--abandoned by their parents, Tuck and her brother stitched together odd jobs to make ends meet--also casts a long shadow over her present circumstances. Narrated by Tuck, Gilliss' debut novel paints an aching picture of life at the fringes of American society, capturing a pain that is nearly tearing the family apart. The hallucinatory and poetic prose, including gorgeous descriptions of the island's natural beauty, feels right for a woman who is consumed with hunger not only for food but also for a semblance of normalcy and love. "Elsewhere in the world, lungfish survive droughts by coating themselves in mud and sinking deep into sleep," Tuck points out. Survival strategies for humans are a lot more complicated. When society has passed you by, when you have to boil kelp for sustenance, every lived moment is a lesson in how to stay alive.

    COPYRIGHT(2022) Booklist, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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A Novel
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