A divided family. A devastated community. And the disaster that brings them all together.

Pearce Oysters, a family drama set on the Louisiana coastline during the historic 2010 oil spill, follows the Pearces, local oyster farmers whose business, family, and livelihood are on the brink of collapse.

This is eye-opening, eco-fiction at its best–a story that highlights the grit and beauty of lives lived in an overlooked corner of the American South. Diving deep into the bonds of family, culture, class, and industry, the novel elevates the voices of deeply sympathetic characters: Jordan,

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A divided family. A devastated community. And the disaster that brings them all together.

Pearce Oysters, a family drama set on the Louisiana coastline during the historic 2010 oil spill, follows the Pearces, local oyster farmers whose business, family, and livelihood are on the brink of collapse.

This is eye-opening, eco-fiction at its best–a story that highlights the grit and beauty of lives lived in an overlooked corner of the American South. Diving deep into the bonds of family, culture, class, and industry, the novel elevates the voices of deeply sympathetic characters: Jordan, the reluctant head of his family’s storied oyster company; May, his distressed, widowed mother; and Benny, his beatnik musician brother, who returns from New Orleans in their time of crisis.

The dynamic between Jordan’s desperation to live up to, and become the business, and Benny’s determination to separate from his family entirely, before the spill, builds the perfect storm.

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  • Zibby Books
  • Hardcover
  • June 2024
  • 368 Pages
  • 9781958506509

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About Joselyn Takacs

Joselyn Takacs holds a PhD in Creative Writing and Literature from the University of Southern California and an MFA in Fiction from Johns Hopkins University. Her fiction has appeared in Gulf Coast, Narrative, Tin House online, Harvard Review, The Rumpus, DIAGRAM, Columbia: A Journal of Art and Literature, and elsewhere. She has published interviews and book reviews in The Los Angeles Review of Books and Entropy. She was featured as one of Narrative magazine’s Top Writers Under 30. She has taught writing at the University of Southern California and Johns Hopkins University.


“Takacs tells a story that feels fresh in its point of view, all the while lending her characters a humanity that paints them neither as heroes nor as villains, but as messy, complex, and wholly worthy of the reader’s time . . . A unique story with a wealth of compelling characters.”Kirkus Reviews

“The complex characters and the lovingly described Louisiana setting bring this eco-tragedy sympathetically to life. Recommended to readers of issue-oriented fiction such as Charlotte McConaghy’s Migrations and Barbara Kingsolver’s Demon Copperhead.” Booklist

“In her gripping and emotionally rich novel, Joselyn Takacs is as perceptive about the natural world as she is about the ecosystem of the troubled family at the heart of this book. Pearce Oysters is an impressive, unflinching, and haunting debut.” Meg Wolitzer, author of The Interestings

“Against the encroaching consequences of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Pearce Oysters offers a precise, panoramic, and ultimately devastating vision of the oystermen, anarchists, day laborers, deadbeats and struggling families who populate Louisiana’s Gulf Coast. This is fiction with a social conscience that is, more wonderful still, beautifully told: witty, vivid, consistently humane. Joselyn Takacs understands the economics of the domestic oyster industry as well as she knows the permutations of love, loyalty, and resentment that define family life—or any life.  A fabulous debut: entertaining, absorbing, necessary and true.”  Alice McDermott, author of Absolution

Pearce Oysters is that rare novel able to speak eloquently and empathetically for our complex times while also delivering an irresistible, heartrending story. When the Pearce family is thrust into a reluctant reckoning with loss and injustice, they must all find the courage to reimagine their relationships—to their generational Louisiana coastal home and livelihood, to truth and lies, and, most importantly, to each other. Takacs is a gifted writer who develops these deeply flawed but earnest characters with extraordinary authenticity, compassion, and intelligence. A powerful, transportive debut. I simply couldn’t put it down.”Shelley Read, author of Go as a River

Pearce Oysters is chock full of pleasures, and especially potent is how deeply Takacs allows for each perspective, including the presence of nature. Everyone and everything central to the book gets time and dignity on the page and as a result this world is so lived-in and thoughtful and beautifully layered. A remarkable debut.”Aimee Bender, author of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake 

Pearce Oysters is a pearl of a novel, as gritty, complex, and full of nuance as the eponymous bivalve at its center. Debut author Joselyn Takacs is as skilled at portraying the bayous, swamps, and bays of Louisiana’s coastline as she is exploring all that is unpredictable about the human heart, especially in times of crisis. It’s a remarkable novel.”Adrienne Brodeur, author of Little Monsters

Pearce Oysters tears back the veil and reveals the crude realities of the biggest oil spill in history. Takacs shows an extraordinary talent for describing the gritty lives of a proud oyster family caught in the emotional undertow of lies and loss, denial and perseverance. Eye-opening and compelling, I couldn’t put it down.”  Mary Alice Monroe, author of The Beach House series

“A vivid, intimate portrait of a disaster the world has forgotten, even though for families along the Gulf Coast it has never ended. Joselyn Takacs is alert to the violent contradictions of life in southern Louisiana: natural glory and industrial horror, boundless faith and bottomless despair, disintegration and reconstruction. An impressive, big-hearted debut.”Nathaniel Rich, author of Losing Earth

“There’s nothing I love more than a family drama steeped in love and complication, and Pearce Oysters delivers it note for note. Not only is this story a staggering account of all we lost in the BP oil spill, it also reminds us of what remains at stake around dinner tables across the country: what it means to fight for a legacy, and why we stay together in the midst of our fiercest trials. Full of wit, grit, and longing, this novel captured my whole heart.”Amy Jo Burns, author of Mercury

“Joselyn Takacs’s Pearce Oysters is a beautiful, important debut that explores the impossibility and dignity of taking a stand, of small rebellions in the face of large upheavals. With lyrical prose, sly humor, and endless empathy, Takacs balances the intimate with the global, showing us the Pearce family in all of their flawed complexity as they attempt to control their own narratives in the face of catastrophic systemic failures. An essential novel for our time, Takacs captures a way of life on the Louisiana coast that, even as you turn the pages of the book, is moving further out of reach”Gwen E. Kirby, author of Shit Cassandra Saw 

“Having witnessed and chronicled much of the pain and chaos of that awful summer when the Deepwater Horizon oil rig blowout polluted the Gulf region and coated the minds and souls of people whose livelihoods and emotional wellbeing teetered on collapse, I am astonished at how well Joselyn Takacs takes us there. She has an amazingly sensitive ear for the braided rhythms of life, work, and family dynamics; and a finely attuned instinct for carrying her readers deep into human drama.”Carl Safina, author of A Sea in Flames: The Deepwater Horizon Oil Blowout

Discussion Questions

1. Pearce Oysters is a heavily researched, fictionalized account of real-life events. In what ways did living through the events alongside the characters impact your understanding of the 2010 Oil Spill?

2. Benny and Jordan have a difficult relationship due to their conflicting interests and beliefs. Who did you find yourself relating to most?

3. May is still reeling from the loss of her husband at the start of the novel, and we see her open up and welcome the idea of being a “liberated woman,” a concept she had previously balked at. Where do you think this shift is coming from?

4. What do you think of Kiki’s version of advocacy? Is it performative? Does it feel less resonant than Jordan and Benny’s forms of protest? Why or why not?

5. Jordan seems to have the most nuanced perspective on the spill, though he is arguably the character who will feel its effects the most. How do his politics play a role in how he views the situation?

6. What do you make of Jordan’s relationship with Cyndi? Did their connection surprise you?

7. May feels immediately judged by Kiki upon meeting her, and after their dinner she begins getting rid of decor pieces in her home that she feels might be a source for criticism. How do these two women relate to each other? How are they different? How are they the same?

8. Why do you think Jordan diminished Benny’s role when speaking to the NPR reporter? Was it wise to be honest at that moment? Why do you think they had originally planned to portray a united family business front?

9. Did this book change your perspective on the 2010 Oil Spill? In what ways?

10. How do you feel about Doc and May’s relationship in the beginning? Do you like them together? Why or why not?

11. Benny’s sexuality, and his discomfort with expressing it back home, is touched on throughout the novel. Explore his relationship with Alejandro and the attraction, shame, intimacy, and secrecy in their interactions.

12. What do you think the overall message of the novel is?

13. In many ways, this novel is, at its core, about family relationships, legacy, and sweeping effects of environmental disasters. Explore the ways in which these themes overlap.

14. Media and PR spin is a recurring theme throughout this novel. How do the fishermen and oyster farmers use this to their advantage? What about those in the oil industry?

15. Do the male characters in Pearce Oysters value the women in their lives? Think about Benny, Jordan, and Doc, and their relationships with Kiki, Cyndi, and May.

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Jordan motored down Bayou Lafourche before dawn, toward his
oyster reefs in Caminada Bay. His three deckhands sat up
watching as the houses along the bayou slept with darkened
windows, the shallow peaks of their roofs outlined against the
early light. An egret sailed by with the silver leaf of a minnow in
its beak.

He felt most reverent about these mornings on the boat. The
gold sunrise pulling back the curtain on the day and the water’s
buttery softness. Green elephant ears lining the bayou bobbed
in his boat wake. Turtles perched on cypress roots. A silvery
nutria slinked into the water from the saw grass, and a water
moccasin skittered across the gleaming surface. The churning
motor, the smell of coffee and his first cigarette. That morning,
Jordan caught himself repeating the word splendor, splendor,
and rolling the word around in his mouth because he didn’t
want to be heard.

The bayou looks like a slough of muddied water to an outsider—
loitering and shadeless and smelling of marsh rot. It could be
homely to a whole crowd of people, but for him, it could flash
silver and call the seabirds to fly low. He longed to find this
private beauty off the water. He was thirty-four years old, broadly
built but already prone to stooping, growing thicker in the
middle in the year and a half since his fiancée left. When he
thought about the condition of his reefs or the disarray of his
office, he knocked on his chest as if trying to dislodge a
blockage in a pipe.

Doug Babies, his longtime deckhand, came into the cabin, took
a pack of cigarettes from his shorts, and shook it lightly.

“You forgot these out on the culling table last night,” Babies
said. “Got all rained on.” He removed a cigarette and set the
pack on the dashboard. The color bled from the tipping paper
and the brown of the tobacco showed through the stem.

“You don’t have to smoke it,” Jordan said. “Bet it won’t even light.”

But it lit fine. When Babies exhaled, he frowned, looking at the
cigarette between his fingers.

“This doesn’t even taste good to me right now,” Babies said.

They called him “Babies” because it rhymed with his last name,
Davies. And because he had the doughy physique of an
overgrown baby. This had been true in high school, when they
played football together, and it still was, seventeen years later.

“I guess it wouldn’t,” Jordan said.

“It’s the hypnosis,” Babies said. “I’ve been to a hypnotist to stop my
drinking. He asked me—my hypnotist—he said, ‘While we’re quittin’ habits,
maybe you want to quit that one too,’ and pointed at the pack I had in my
shirt pocket. I told him to work his magic.”

“You never mentioned it.” Jordan took one of his own cigarettes.

“He speaks right to my subconscious. I’m dozing on the couch,
and he says to me, ‘You don’t have to drink. You don’t have to
smoke anymore either.’”

“Huh,” Jordan said.

“I woke up feeling pretty good, actually. There’s something to it,
maybe. I’m only smoking because I’m bored. That’s all. Or I want
to take a break.”

Babies came to work for Jordan four years ago, and he’d tired of
being a deckhand. Jordan knew Babies wanted to run his own

One of the Pearce family boats.

“You know, I can tell you’re nervous,” Babies said.


“About seeing Benny tonight. I can see you talking to him in
your head.”

“My mom told you he was coming?”

“She said the dinner was just for family.” Babies said this with
some bitterness. He considered himself family. Jordan’s mother
had encouraged him to, but she probably suspected that Benny
wouldn’t want to see Babies. In high school, Babies was in a
crowd that Jordan’s younger brother looked down on. But then
again, Benny looked down on most of his classmates. That
was a hard place to start friendships from.

“She’s crazy about this dinner,” Jordan said. “He probably won’t
even come.”

“You think so?”

“He’ll cancel at the last minute. She’ll make excuses for him.
He’s a genius just because he can play the piano.”

Babies laughed, leaning forward to grind his cigarette into the

“I think he’s a genius too,” Babies said. “He’s sleeping right now
and still getting a paycheck. We’re the fuckers going to work
before sunup.”

Jordan pulled on his cigarette in response. He did not like being
reminded that he paid Benny a salary. Their father’s succession
plan passed on the family business to Jordan and Benny as
partners. Babies said it only to needle Jordan. In this way, Babies
was more his brother than Benny was.

Babies shrugged and walked off to join Alejandro and Manuel
on the deck. Jordan thumped on his chest. Most of the time he
tried not to think about his brother, who was the front man for a
band whose music Jordan did not like. Benny hadn’t been home
in two years, though he lived only an hour and a half away in
New Orleans, saying he was a “full-time musician.”

By midday, Jordan’s crew had dredged thirty sacks of oysters
from Caminada Bay—a good haul for a morning. The new
deckhands, Manuel and Alejandro, were fast learners. They’d
shown up together, both on work visas, three weeks earlier.
Neither one of them had ever so much as held an oyster
hammer. Manuel had never even eaten an oyster. But Babies
had shown them what to do. Every two minutes, Jordan pulled
the winch to lift a dredge full of oysters from the reef below, and
the deckhands spilled the oysters on a steel table and attacked
the pile like they were born to do it, breaking up clusters into
singles and bagging them for market. They were already faster
at culling than Babies, who dragged the hundred-pound sacks
into the shade and tied them up.

Jordan preferred the harvest days, tiresome as they were.
Driving a heavy-bottomed oyster boat in wide arcs in the bay
was like driving a mower over a lawn.

It was good work if you liked to live in your mind. The boat rolled
portside as the dredge, a great steel-toothed cage, scraped the
reef below. He could feel it, as if the whole boat were an
extension of his body, knowing where to be gentle, where to
leave the reef alone. He had to sense when it was full.

When Jordan was young, he heard his father say, “No matter
where I am, I can see my oyster population in Barataria.” This
made sense to him now. Jordan had a map of all his family’s
oyster leases in his mind—each in its own stage of production. It
was like closing your eyes, with great stillness, and sensing the
various lengths and angles of your own body. He saw the leases
in Caminada Bay he would harvest until July, and the leases he
was soon to plant. He saw the leases that weren’t producing,
fallow for any number of reasons: freshwater intrusion,
predators, poachers. The leases had been passed down through
the years—plots of water bottom they leased from the state to
build their reefs on. Each generation did what it could to add to
the family’s holdings. The most important thing was to ensure
what they passed on was larger than what had been passed to


Dear Reader,

Of all the books you could be holding right now, I’m honored that you’re holding mine.

This novel is as personal as it gets for me, though nearly every cell in my body has turned over since I started it nine years ago. This is a story of a family, the Pearces. The Pearces have owned an oyster farm in Louisiana so long that it started off in a canoe.

I’ve always wanted to tell a story that knits together a family and the environment, politics and community, with humor and love. (I devoured Steinbeck novels in college.) But telling such a large story meant some failed attempts. It meant learning to tell a story from multiple points of view and learning to write about the environment. In an early draft of this novel, the oysters talked, I’m afraid—a kind of Greek chorus.

My own story with the novel’s subject reaches back to 2010. I was living in New Orleans and waiting tables in a French Quarter restaurant with a rat problem, when an explosion on an oil rig off the Louisiana coast precipitated the largest accidental oil spill in world history.

I was twenty-three years old then and part of a small activist community that protested the company responsible for the spill—and how it handled the spill. (You’ll recognize one scene of our well-meaning efforts portrayed in the novel.) But we felt, as everyone did, helpless to do much but wait for it to be over. That summer, I read a profile in a weekly paper about an oyster farm that was closing down. The oyster farmer explained the threat of the spill from his perspective—one that could put him out of business for years. An oiled oyster reef was not just a season’s loss, but the loss of several years because it can take four years for an oyster to reach market size.

I kept thinking about that profile, even after the oil spill and its effects faded from national headlines. In 2015, I received a grant to record the oral histories of oyster farmers about their lives and how they’d been affected by the oil spill. I interviewed farmers from across Louisiana. They opened their homes to me, invited me for dinner; some invited me out on their boats to see the reefs. On one trip, our boat grounded in the marsh of a Native American burial mound and the captain assured me that we’d be free once the tide came in—four hours later. What those men and women taught me about the ecosystem and the industry—and the oyster—became the foundation of this novel.

I learned that oyster reefs protect the coast from storms by breaking the assault of waves. That every year before shrimp season, a Catholic priest blesses the boats with holy water. That you lean over an oyster as you eat it. That when you eat an oyster, the flavor of it, what you’re tasting, is the environment where it lived, the plankton it ate, the minerals in that water. The French call this merroir. Or, as the oyster farmer in my novel says, “the whole point of an oyster is where it’s from.”

In more than one sense, I became a different person while writing this novel, and it is a great privilege to be able to share it with you now.

Thank you for reading for it.
~Joselyn Takacs

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