“Mud City was a place to go when there was no other place that fit. It seemed that the people who got there were always coming there, though perhaps unaware. They had left other ambitions behind somewhere, and other necessities. They settled, they fit, they stayed. Some, of course, didn’t, wriggling and twitching like a hermit crab unable to adjust to a new shell until they moved on. But it was an eddy where lives could get snagged. You could make a living, nobody bothered you and, as resident Rev. Archambault Dinwiddie put it, you could touch God; anyhow, there was nothing to get between you and the idea.”

— from the book

The Oyster Singer

A Novel

By Larry Savadove

“Delightful...reminiscent of Annie Proulx’s
The Shipping News...”

— The Beachcomber

6" x 9"
494 pp.
was $22.95
NOW $16.95
ISBN 1-59322-009-X



ON THE ISLAND SIDE OF THE BAY, tourists flock to the beaches and every season summer residents open up their expensive beach houses. On their way, they pass a collection of low, ticky-tacky structures and accidental bungalows known as Mud City, barely noticing it. It is here, on this abandoned stretch of marshland, that lost lives wash up like driftwood. They float and intersect like debris in tidal currents, and sometimes, when conditions are just right, they connect.

In this episodic novel, cats are trained to dive for fish; a boat-builder is holed up in an abandoned fish factory making old-fashioned sneakboxes by hand (even though nobody wants his craftsmanship anymore); a huge jetty boulder is stolen; and a party is held on an island that vanishes at high tide.

The protagonist, Lum, not quite a hero, quotes Lincoln a lot, tells stories a lot, can perform a kind of yodeling-bagpipe call that brings oysters up out of the bay. He thinks he's found his place in the world. People respond to Lum with their own stories, and as histories are shared a community of no-longer-lost souls forms — except for those who want to take that place away.

When a body is found floating in Mud City, a search for the perpetrators is launched in the mysterious pinelands, and the tone is set for changes to come. Ultimately, as with all coastal property, a developer discovers Mud City and sees a huge potential in the real estate, and the squatters must chose to leave or fight.

Evocative, poetic and funny descriptions of the place and its seasons (including an almost mystical description of being lost in a sudden storm on the bay) slip between the stories as the two main characters — a man and a woman as nature would have it, even here — drift around one another, now pulled together, now pushed apart.

The Oyster Singer is a novel about second chances and soulmates, love lost and found, adventurers, drifters, developers and dreamers, in a place called Mud City on a shore bound for change. And, in the midst of change and vulnerability, the permanence that may be possible when people find each other and discover where they belong.


"As The Oyster Singer unfolds in time, Savadove's keen eye for description conjures up images that are as true to the shore as golden-red sunsets over the bay. He describes flocks of geese, herons and egrets fishing for meals; setting a sailboat quietly and neatly to its dock mooring; and great storms over the open water. Three times in the novel strong storms occur, each affecting an important character. No matter what the seasons provide, no matter what humans try to do to the shore, the storms show that nature is always in control."


This winter the bay not only froze over, it froze solid. "It’s a glacier," said Lum. "The ice age is back." It was frozen down into the muck. The tides still came and if there was enough of a spring tide the water would wash in the inlets and over the top of the ice and add to it, freezing in various places depending on how far in it had managed to get. Soon the bay was a landscape of ice sculpture. In some places the wavelets had frozen in looping patterns, like lines on a topographical map. In some places the wind had pushed the water into puckers that never got to settle. There were hollows striped in white, and flat ovals like mirrors, and clear window holes where you could see the eelgrass held in place, as if inside a giant paperweight. Gulls landed, or tried to, skidding and squawking, pushing their feet against what should have been either water or land but didn’t act like either. They slid, bumped into each other, tumbled over, trying to get some footing, falling sideways. "They’re more fun than the Three Stooges," Ging said, giggling, scattering bread so they’d keep coming back.
There were some mild days, just enough to melt the top millimeter or so which then froze again at night until there was a shimmer effect from the buildup and the sun would hit the ice and the whole bay seemed to be spread with diamond dust. If the night was warm — that is, anything above freezing — dew would form on the reeds and then freeze, making crystal cymbals for the wind to play, all glittering like frozen stars. Sometimes you’d look around and see everybody standing out on their docks, just looking.

Larry Savadove’s first novel, The Sound of One Hand, about an American in post-war Japan, was hailed by a reviewer in The New York Times Book Review as "the best novel about Japan I have ever read." He wrote: "He out-Micheners Michener a hundred-fold."

After graduating from Harvard, where he edited the Crimson, Savadove worked for a while on Sun Oil Co. tankers in gulf coast oil ports, on a ranch in New Mexico, in the army, heading the Indochina Desk for Military Intelligence during Vietnam. He worked for an American ad agency in Japan and Venezuela, and produced documentaries in Hollywood (including The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau and National Geographic Specials). In 1990, he came back to the shore of his youth, editing a local newspaper and co-authoring the book Great Storms of the Jersey Shore (1993).

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