Tip of the Iceberg

Larry O'Connor

A suspenseful exploration of arctic lore and family secrets


"Larry O'Connor has written a gripping memoir of his Canadian boyhood. But he has accomplished much more in this mystery story carried urgently forward by a paralyzing family secret set amidst a tour de force meditation on arctic exploration and Eskimo myth. The solitude he identifies as 'a northern thing' is by turns a killing family loneliness and a submerged, dangerous fury. This Canadian solitude is also the source of heartbreaking beauty and a surprising, hard-won compassion. The result is a memoir of rare grace and authority."
—Patricia Hampl, author of I Could Tell You Stories

"Here is a thoughtful and heartrending essay on the consequences—physical and emotional—of life in the frigid north, where the silence of many human relations matches the silence of the landscape. And there is a secret embedded in this book, a scalding revelation that leaves the reader shaken."
—Christopher Merrill, author of Only the Nails Remain: Scenes from the Balkan Wars

"Skates between the lore of the frozen North and the lure of a family secret he's driven to explore and expose."
Wall Street Journal

"An extraordinary family secret . . . serves as a suspenseful backdrop to the quiet life of this boy and extends well into adulthood when he finally uncovers the secret. Recommended for public libraries."
Library Journal

"Larry O'Conner's Tip of the Iceberg is an intriguing read. Part childhood memoir, part exploration of the complex relationships between fathers and sons, and part analysis of the deeply sublimated Canadian cult of nordicity, this slender volume is both ambitious and disturbing. . . . The tightness of his prose, his skill at exposition, and his intuitive understanding of how to juxtapose landscapes and human beings bodes well for his future work."
North Dakota Quarterly

"This memoir is in the tradition of the best father-son narratives, from Edmund Gosse to Geoffrey Wolff."
—Phillip Lopate

"O'Connor's youth is cryogenically preserved in the rough and marvelous manner of Sir John Franklin's long-refrigerated crew."
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Growing up in remote central Canada, Larry O'Connor was spellbound by the country farther north—the unknowable white expanses, the harsh lives of its indigenous peoples and animals, and the exploits of its legendary explorers. A memoir of self-discovery, Tip of the Iceberg samples the history and lore of the frozen wastes as it reveals a young man's journey across his family's past.

O'Connor is the kind of child the Eskimos might have left to the elements: undersized, frail, an outsider. Yet he is willful, driven to lift the pall that emanates from his father to blanket the entire family. Underlying the physical coldness of place is an emotional chill. O'Connor's father is a stern, secretive man, barely knowable to his son, misunderstood by those around him. While father and son are poles apart in their temperament, O'Connor senses the traces of a hidden, softer man in his father, a man who retreats to a lockbox of memorabilia in the middle of the night. O'Connor pushes on in his quest.

O'Connor's spare and elegant prose conveys the heartbreaking weight of the unspoken and unseen: relatives who never call or visit, photographs locked in a cedar chest, forgotten obituaries in back issues of the local newspaper. In eerie counterpoint, O'Connor mixes fact and fable about narwhals, the midnight sun, and the elusive Northwest Passage with details of the two lives—the maturing son and distant father. At the same time O'Connor ponders the spirit-killing ethos of his working-class town: Do your duty and mind your business, no showing off and no complaining.

The effect is cumulative, subtle, and inexorable. Tip of the Iceberg is a remarkable story, perfectly modulated by O'Connor's exquisite style and infused with the kind of deep humanity that comes from understanding and forgiveness.

Page count: 184 pp.
Trim size: 5.5 x 8


List price: $28.95

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Larry O'Connor is an editor for the Wall Street Journal. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.