The Sea Came in at Midnight by Steve Erickson

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(Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation)

In such earlier novels as Days Between Stations: A Novel (1985), Arc d’X (1993), and Amnesiascope: A Novel (1996), Steve Erickson presented his pessimistic vision of the future. The Sea Came in at Midnight again shows human society declining into a postmillennial dystopia, which the author emphasizes is a logical extrapolation given the course of history and especially the events of the twentieth century. The central character in The Sea Came in at Midnight is a seventeen-year-old girl, Kristin. Unhappy with her life in the small Northern California town of Davenhall, Kristin runs way from home, leaving the uncle with whom she has lived as long as she can remember, and joins a group encamped near the sea. What she does not at first realize is that they are pleased to see her because they need her for their millennial observance. At midnight on New Year’s Eve, two thousand females are expected to jump off a cliff into the sea, and the male priests who organize this venture have just discovered that they are one person short. Once she finds out what is going on, Kristin resolves to escape. Of all the women who are being driven to their deaths by the armed cult leaders, who obviously do not intend to join their flock in death, only Kristin has the will and the wit to escape. Afterward, she likes to look at the newspaper clipping that says two thousand women perished, for she knows that by fleeing, she threw off the count and invalidated the project. Kristin’s clear-sightedness and her practical common sense, so clearly revealed in this episode, later enable her to survive a series of bizarre adventures, including one episode as a sex slave and another as one of the girls who work at Tokyo “memory hotels,” where men pay to recite their memories and to listen to those of their hostesses.

Though Kristin’s resolute rationality may preserve her, it also keeps her from being fully human. Ever since the day when, as a small girl, she was taken to meet her birth mother, only to see her hesitate and then walk away, Kristin has not allowed herself to become emotionally involved with anyone. For this reason, she is ideal for the purposes of the man known only as the Occupant. The Occupant, too, has retreated from emotion and indeed from the outside world because of his experiences with loss. He, too, has been abandoned. As an eleven-year-old boy, living in a Paris flat with his mother and his father, who was a famous American poet, the Occupant had no premonition of tragedy. Then one night he heard a shot, ran to his parents’ bedroom, and caught a glimpse of a dead girl lying on the bed. He never did find out just what happened. There was a riot in the streets outside the apartment building, and it was easy for his mother to disappear into the crowd. When his father was sent to prison for murder, the Occupant was taken in by various friends. He never saw either of his parents again. However, he was still willing to chance caring for someone. During a return trip to Paris fourteen years later, the Occupant met Angie Kai, a nineteen-year-old Asian European. Though she insisted she did not love him, she was willing to live with him. Eventually they were married and settled down in a house in the Hollywood hills. Angie became pregnant. Then the Occupant awoke one morning to find her gone—he did not know where; he did not know why. Eventually he became convinced that Angie and her baby daughter were among the cult members who died.

By the time he places the advertisement that is quoted at the beginning of the novel, the Occupant has willed himself into detachment. He seldom emerges from his home in the Hollywood hills, where he is creating a great calendar of events he sees as apocalyptic. However, though he intends to live without love, he needs a convenient sexual outlet. In veiled terms, he advertises for an employee to serve his purposes, and because Kristin is hungry and homeless, she takes the job. Although initially she is understandably...

(The entire section is 1,821 words.)