It’s no secret: I love a good ghost story. But Katy Simpson Smith’s incantatory debut novel, The Story of Land and Sea, which I reviewed for ELLE’s September issue, replaces the usual gothic bluster with narration that is plainspoken and even puritanical. That’s not to say Smith skimps on the shivers — in rendering a historically faithful portrait of colonial life, she evokes ghosts of many women who died on the North Carolina coast in such detail that the chilly salt air seems to emanate from the page. The world she paints, though populated by pirates and soldiers, is one where harsh reality, not romance, reigns. (After all, these are men who enclose their deceased children in barrels of rum rather than in coffins, for practicality’s sake.) It is stark and beautiful, and a promising start for a novelist whose next tale I can’t wait to read. For now, you can read more of my take on Smith’s first novel here..