Skip to main content Skip to search Skip to search

Fiction Historical

The Sea Between Two Shores

A Novel

by (author) Tanis Rideout

McClelland & Stewart
Initial publish date
May 2023
Historical, Nature & the Environment, Cultural Heritage
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2022
    List Price
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    May 2023
    List Price

Add it to your shelf

Where to buy it


From the bestselling author of Above All Things and inspired by real events, this powerful novel follows two families brought together to reckon with what it means to make amends—for historic wrongs and the wrongs we commit against the ones we love. For readers of Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things, Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder, Esi Edugyan's Washington Black, Joan Thomas's Five Wives, and Michael Christie's Greenwood.

On a small island in the South Pacific nation of Vanuatu, the Tabés are a family mourning the death of their son in the aftermath of a devastating cyclone, while worrying over the looming departure of another. Desperate to find a way to change their fates, David Tabé places a phone call halfway around the world to the Stewarts, a family bound to his own through a fraught connection in the distant past—their ancestors met on the island two hundred years earlier, with calamitous results.

In Toronto, the Stewarts are themselves locked in mourning after the accidental drowning of their youngest son. When Michelle Stewart receives David’s invitation to participate in a reconciliation ceremony to put the spirits of their respective ancestors to rest, she accepts in a desperate effort to save herself and her family. As the ceremony approaches, the Tabés and the Stewarts will uncover their shared losses and failings, their fragile hopes for what a better future might hold, and the wounds that stand in the way of freeing themselves from the legacy of past betrayals.

Heart-wrenching, thought-provoking, and morally complex, The Sea Between Two Shores immerses us in the lives of two families connected as much by their desire for healing as by the actions of their ancestors. It is an extraordinary meditation on the complications of history, the possibilities for redemption, and the meaning of the stories we tell ourselves.

About the author

Contributor Notes

TANIS RIDEOUT’s internationally acclaimed first novel, Above All Things, was a national bestseller, named to numerous best books of the year lists, and published in several languages around the world. It was awarded the Premio ITAS del Libro di Montagna and was longlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. Her new novel is The Sea Between Two Shores. She is also the author of the poetry collection Arguments with the Lake. Born in Belgium, she grew up in Bermuda and in Kingston, Ontario, and now lives in Los Angeles.

Excerpt: The Sea Between Two Shores: A Novel (by (author) Tanis Rideout)

It’s Scott’s idea: a long weekend barbecue in the backyard before the start of the new school year.
They used to have barbecues all the time—impromptu affairs that began with a shout over the fence to the Fraziers next door or quick texts to whoever sprang to mind, chaotic gatherings of families and burgers, kids and hotdogs. They haven’t had that kind of gathering for the past two summers. Michelle has barely been in the backyard in over a year.
“It’ll be great,” Scott said to her when he came back from his Sunday run. “A fun break for all of us”—he stopped, corrected himself—“the four of us, before things get crazy with school and work. Do what we used to. Mark the end of summer.”
“I can’t,” she said, casting about for a reason he would accept. “Astrid needs a new backpack and Zach—”
“Come on. I think what they really need is some family time.
A little fun.”
“Right, I’m sure Zach will think it’s fun.”
“They need this, Michelle. We need it.” She’s noticed a new tone in his voice recently, an exasperation maybe, or an urgency, similar to the one she’s overheard him using on the phone when he thinks she is in her office or in Dylan’s room. A tone that says something has got to give.
“Fine, I’ll go pick up some things.”
At the grocery and liquor stores she buys pop and beer and more than one bottle of cheap rosé, chips and hamburgers and, in a burst of hopefulness, the ice cream pops Zach likes. She stands in front of the bright boxes of cereal and tells herself they don’t need any. Still, she picks up the one that’s Dylan’s favourite. In the car she opens it, inhaling the smell, and swallows a handful, then another. On the way into the house, she buries the box at the bottom of the recycling bin.

The water in the backyard pool fractures the sunlight into sharp, painful spears. It is just the three of them—Michelle and Scott and Astrid. Zach should be here, but as usual they have no idea where he is.
And Dylan. Dylan should be here.
With her chair angled away from the shattered shine of the pool, Michelle stabs a text message into her phone. Where are you? She watches for the dots to bounce in response. When they don’t, she puts her phone face down and casts her gaze over the far end of the yard. The plants and flowers she used to love and tend have withered and browned along with the foolishly ambitious attempt at a vegetable garden; even Astrid’s small “medicine” garden has gone to seed.
The sun is warm in the end-of-summer air, the wine in her glass is crisp and bright, and her stomach is even growling at the smell of the burgers drifting from the barbecue. She is almost relaxed—or thinks she could be if Zach would show up—when the phone inside rings. The landline never rings unless it’s a call from school or her mother.
“Leave it,” Scott says too casually from the barbecue. She tries to discern why, staring at him. He doesn’t look away, only leans towards her to top up her wine.
“Leave it,” Astrid chirps from behind her father. She is sitting on the ground with markers, colouring her toenails. Michelle would have objected to that, before. Now she can’t think why she would have thought the colour of her daughter’s toenails mattered.
The phone rings again and Scott moves closer, puts his hand on hers. She wills her own hand to turn over and take his, but can’t. There is a new barrier between them—she sees more than feels him holding her there. She could let the phone ring in the empty house. She could hold her husband’s hand. But instead she thinks of his hushed phone calls and suddenly she needs to know who is on the other end. “It might be Zach,” she says, slipping her hand out from under his, pushing herself up from the chair, and heading for the sliding door. As she picks up the phone, she hopes it is Zach, hopes it isn’t.
In the weeks after Dylan drowned, she was certain that every ringing phone was him, her younger son reaching out to her. Each time she answered to someone else’s voice on the line another layer of her was flayed away, exposing a raw anger at the caller’s inevitable sympathy if they knew what had happened, or their ignorance if they did not. The hope that it was him, the faith, was almost unbearable. She was convinced she must still be able to reach him. He couldn’t just be gone. He had to be out there somewhere, just on the other side of where she waited.
There is a crackle of static through the receiver. “Hello?” Dylan’s name is a prayer she repeats in her thoughts, even as she prepares herself for disappointment—or worse, someone whom only Scott knows.
A lightly accented voice, a beat late from long-distance delay, reminding her of when she was little and her mother would call her uncle on Christmas Eve; neither wanted to be the first to call, but they had to call before midnight, so each would try to wait the other out. Michelle never really understood the rules. Once there was the magic of them saying hello to each other without the phone ringing on either end. The wonder of that connection.
“Is this Michelle Stewart?” A tinny sound, a trill to the r that makes her name feel French and exotic. A man’s voice. She exhales a breath she didn’t know she was holding.
“Michelle Stewart-Petit. Yes.” She leans into the phone, presses it hard against her ear so she can hear him better. “Who is this?”
“Mrs. Stewart, my name is David Tabé.”
“How can I help you, Mr. Tabé?” She tries to pronounce the name the way he does, with a slight swallowing of the vowels, a lifting eh at the end. This is something she teaches in her workshops: names are powerful. People like to be addressed by name; it makes them feel heard. She glances out the sliding door. In the backyard Scott is bent over Astrid, examining something she holds in her hand; both of them look serious, deep in discussion, though she cannot hear them.
“I am calling from Iparei,” the man says, then pauses, as though waiting for her to acknowledge something. “We are an island in Vanuatu,” he continues, and this name rings a bell, echoing from somewhere so deep in her mind she doesn’t bother to reach for it. “Your people came here a long time ago. The Reverend and Mrs. Stewart.”
Clammy cold washes over her and Michelle slumps to the floor, her back pressed against the cupboards. “Mr. Tabé,” she repeats, her voice the only thing steady about her. “Of course. But how can I help you? It’s true, my great-great-grandparents went to your island. Sorry, I can never remember the right number of greats. But that was, as you say, a very long time ago.”
He continues to speak, calm and instructive, as though he were not making a request, but offering her something. And how strange it is, she thinks, for this man who is a link to some long-distant moment in her family’s past to be calling her on a sunny afternoon in early September.
All at once, time and space telescope for her and there is a breath on her neck, a voice in her ear. She is reminded of the time she visited the church in Dartmouth where these same grandparents were married almost two hundred years ago, where their names are inscribed over an empty grave, no bones to be interred, and where for an instant her body felt as if it wasn’t her own but was occupied by someone else, held someone else’s memories. The church grew colder and her consciousness suddenly flared to the infinite—it wasn’t an obliteration, but rather an inclusion. She had never been more aware of herself as a link between the past and the future, and certain of her place, her connection to her ancestors, to her children. And then, as quickly as it came, the sensation was gone.
She never told anyone about that experience, but she begins to explain it to the man on the phone—how she feels that way now, like everything is aligned, the past and the present, her and Dylan, her blood, stretching all the way back through those generations.
But even as she tries to find the words, the feeling dissolves. The world collapses to the hard fact of her kitchen and she is left with only the emptiness of where Dylan used to be.
After Michelle hangs up the phone, she looks out the sliding door to see Zach has finally shown up, his fifteen-year-old body all angles and broken skin, slumped in the chair that she vacated. He throws balled-up leaves into the pool. His eyes are so shadowed they could be bruised. It almost hurts her to look at him. She’s read the statistics. Families fall apart after losing a child. Husbands leave, wives have affairs, children lash out. But she doesn’t know how to fight the almost inevitable.
She tops up her wine glass from the unopened bottle in the fridge, gulps it down, and returns to the backyard. Scott is joking with Zach, trying to call him back from wherever he always seems to be these days, lost in his phone or staring into space.
“Where were you?” she asks, and her voice is too harsh, but she cannot control how it comes out of her anymore. He shrugs, cuts his eyes away from her, stares hard at the swimming pool. There is a frisson around him, a charged energy that feels unpredictable. He could hug her, or throw her into the pool—either seems equally possible.
Instead, he asks, “Why did you get these?” He holds up an ice cream pop over his shoulder, melting in its unopened envelope.
“You like them.”
“Nope. Dylan liked them.”
His tone is hard, and she recoils from it slightly. Then she sees the bright logo of the ice pop in Dylan’s hand, the stain of blue on his tongue, and how he would threaten to lick Astrid with it.
Zach tosses the packet back on the table and it sits between them.
She is about to say something when Scott interrupts. “Who was on the phone?” His tone is neutral.
She tries to conjure the way she felt only a few minutes ago, the warmth of belonging, of connection, but she can’t. She is scraped raw again. She thinks of all the times she has asked Scott that same question in the past few months, the answers he has given her.
“No one, just a wrong number.”

Editorial Reviews

“Her voice both intimate and wise, Tanis Rideout traverses the textures and echoes of grief, asking difficult and important questions: How does loss imprint itself upon our hearts? Can we find meaning through forgiveness? What is it to both respect our histories and write a future of integrity and compassion? Her language is poetic, her vision resonant. This book speaks powerfully to the challenges we all confront.”
—Vincent Lam, author of The Headmaster’s Wager

“In this gorgeously written, carefully researched novel, Tanis Rideout brings to vivid life a remote island community as it copes with the arrival of a pair of missionaries, and then as both parties’ descendants, two hundred years later, seek to reconcile the aftermath of that earlier engagement. A thoughtful, absorbing meditation on loss and the resiliency of the human spirit.”
—Cathy Marie Buchanan, author of The Painted Girls

"A thoroughly captivating novel.”
North Bay Nipissing

Other titles by