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SEA WIFE by Amity Gaige


by Amity Gaige

Pub Date: May 19th, 2020
ISBN: 978-0-525-65649-4
Publisher: Knopf

A family sailing excursion goes badly awry in a perfect storm of weather, naiveté, and marital tension.

Michael Partlow feels trapped in a dull job and wants an adventure; his wife, Juliet, is a stay-at-home mother of two who’s prone to depression. (Her malaise is exacerbated by her having to abandon her dissertation on the poet Anne Sexton, another depressive mom.) In an impulsive moment, Michael decides to purchase a small yacht (which he renames Juliet) and brings the family down to Panama to sail it to Cartagena, Colombia. We know early that something went wrong on the trip: Juliet notes that their house is “a point of interest,” Michael is absent, and she’s taken to retreating to a closet. As Gaige parcels out details of the calamity, she frames Michael and Juliet’s story as he said, -she said dueling narratives: Juliet’s present-day narration of the trip's aftermath alternates with entries from Michael’s logbook. The parrying reveals how sometimes even the closest couples fail to understand each other: Michael is prone to mocking Juliet’s sensitivity (“Tears, a husband’s kryptonite”) while Juliet only had the slightest sense of his internal seething, which intertwines grumpy political grievances with escalating contempt for his marriage. Gaige is well-suited for this sort of psychological exploration: Her previous novel, Schroder (2013), smartly chronicled the irrationality that can consume a marital split. And the seafaring sections are gripping, as the family’s lives are literally tempest-tossed. Yet the novel is also a ship carrying a lot of ballast, as Gaige sometimes strains to keep the couple’s parrying going: spats, riffs on parenting, literary analysis, and a late-breaking murder mystery that feels tacked-on. None of which sinks the story, but it does dampen its power.

A powerful if sometimes wayward take on a marriage on the rocks.