Friday, July 1, 2011
Book Review: Safe from the Sea, by Peter Geye
by Peter Geye
"Olaf nodded up at the sky. 'He taught me some things about navigating. Just basic stuff, but I was hooked. He said that a true seaman could sail around the world without anything more than a watch and a sextant and the sky to guide him. I didn't even know what a sextant was, just figured you knew where to go if you were in charge of one of those boats. I never reckoned there was any science to it. Wolf taught me how to take sun sights, how to chart our course, how to estimate our position using dead reckoning when the sky was cloudy and the shore out of sight.' He paused, cleared his throat. 'Now it's just a bunch of satellites telling you where you are and where to go. Back then it was still something beautiful to steer a ship." (pg. 62)
Noah Torr's relationship with his father Olaf has always been a tricky one to navigate. In this novel, Olaf's a crusty, weathered former sailor who is somewhat of a local legend along the remote northern Minnesota shoreline where he lives, haunted by his surviving a devastasting 1967 shipwreck that killed all 27 of his 30-member crew.
It's a story that Olaf has been reluctant to tell, but now that he's dying and his son Noah has returned home (ostensibly to "help him prepare the cabin for winter"), he unburdens himself of the secrets and guilt that he has carried for nearly four decades since the accident. In the process, father and son begin the rocky process of trying to understand and accept one another before its too late.
Yeah, the troubled-father-and-son-making-amends-on-one's-deathbed story has been done before, but it's a theme universal enough that it doesn't flounder in Peter Geye's hands as an author. For starters, Geye apparently knows his stuff (or has done a tremendous amount of research) regarding several key areas of the book. The descriptions of the northern Minnesota coast and its waters, as well as of boats and shipping and the shipping industry, are incredibly well done - not to mention the characters' hardy Norwegian heritage and Noah and his wife's Natalie's infertility struggles. I'd be surprised if much of this did not originate from Geye's own life - which is more than perfectly fine, particularly since Safe from the Sea is Geye's debut novel.
Moreso than the story and the writing (which seemed to me to be perfunctory and matter of fact, but is perhaps designed to be such to reflect the characters' personalities), Safe from the Sea is a story with a strong sense of place. As the reader, you absolutely feel as if you are right there in the fierce winter storm with the ill-fated sailors, even if you (like me) have barely set foot on a boat. Like Per Petterson's I Curse the River of Time (which I didn't care for much at all), you physically feel cold reading this novel.
(Our air-conditioner broke a few hours after I finished this and the temperature was a toasty 83 degrees inside our house. This would have been the perfect book to read under such conditions, believe you me.)
Safe from the Sea is one that many bloggers love, many calling it "stunning" and "gorgeous." I'm in the minority here and am not going quite that far (it's not going to be one of my absolute favorites of the year, as it is for many of my blogging peers), but it was a satisfying enough read for me, one that I appreciated, and definitely one that will make me seek out Peter Geye's work in the future.
What Other Bloggers Thought:
A Guy's Moleskine Notebook
a lovely shore breeze ...
Beth Fish Reads
The Book Lady's Blog
Chick with Books
Devourer of Books
everything distils into reading
Fingers and Prose
Lit and Life
So Many Precious Books, So Little Time
copyright 2011, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.