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Approach this book with an open mind, but fasten your seatbelt and prepare to have that mind bent. Strange Seas chronicles the author's search through past lives, channeling, trance states, dreams and personal soul-searching, to learn why she has a profound and sometimes unsettling connection to the sea, and especially to whales and dolphins.

It's a risky book. Suzy McKee Charnas is an award-winning fiction writer, but this is not fiction, even though it reads with the pace of a mystery novel. Doubtless there are some who will think that Charnas has fallen overboard, but the rewards to the reader are immense. She dares, for instance, to explore and articulate ideas that many of us have had about cetacean souls, intelligence, sexuality and linguistics.

"Being There" by Michael Cox

"Being There"

by Michael Cox

To understand her disturbing and confusing dreams, Charnas worked with a channeler who led her to discover past lives in which she was deeply involved with the sea in many capacities and both genders: as a sailor, a drowning passenger, a pirate, and, to Charnas, most provocative and distressing, as a whalerman.

The mere idea that she had once killed whales was horrifying and led to questions about cetacean souls (young souls, like humans), including their myths, social structures, and rites of passage. And, the themes of their stories, roughly translated by the channeler, are "The Enormously Wise One Who Can Cross Untasted Waters," "One Who Has Forgotten Important Things," "The Mother Whose Offspring Never Drowns," and "The One Who Deliberately Taunts and Seeks Out Dangerous Companions." This is heady stuff, whether or not you accept the premise.

The last part of the book takes us with her on a quest to encounter a whale in the wild, and I was so eager for Charnas to find her whale that I couldn't read fast enough. There's a great deal more to love about Strange Seas. We get glimpses of a writer at work, struggling with writer's block and deadlines. There are also autobiographical sections that are touching and often funny.

Charnas is no fuzzy bunny. She's a mature woman fearlessly in search of wisdom; skeptical, but with an overwhelming need to know. What she finds may or may not surprise you, but it will definitely make you think.

Phoebe Wray is a writer and theatre director, with two short stories in the archives of and several others on emags. She is primarily a non-fiction writer on topics such as endangered species, marine mammal conservation, and environmental ethics. She lives in Massachusetts and teaches at The Boston Conservatory.

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