REGATTA by Douglass Wallop


Email this review


Those who still think of Wallop chiefly as the author of The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant might expect his new novel about the Maryland sailing scene to be rich in satire and/or hijinks. Unfortunately, however, the bulk of the narrative here is given over to bland soap opera--with the contrived, round-robin structure of a TV movie or even, alas, an episode of The Love Boat. The premise is a 30-mile race from Annapolis to Oxford involving boats of all classes (with a handicap system). And primary attention goes to two of the competitors: boat-yard-owner Harry Crowder, who's still getting over his divorce and painfully missing his young son; and B'way/Hollywood mogul-yachtsman Mel Fontaine, whose gorgeous mistress Elaine (scarred by incest-rape in her white-trash past) is working up the gumption to leave Mel for Harry, with whom she had a glorious brief-interlude some time back. With this romance/melodrama setup, the race inevitably comes down to a one-on-one finale between Harry's small sloop and Mel's super-yacht. But there are also glimpses of some other couples: an about-to-divorce twosome that's only compatible when sailing; the race's patrician coordinator and her middle-aged suitor (who's keeping his tax-evasion jail-term a secret); and--far more involving than any of the rest--the slapstick and pathos of a middle-aged neophyte enthusiast, his horrified sister, and his long-suffering wife (""For her golden years of retirement, Mrs. Hackett had had something quite different in mind than tying sheepshanks with toaster cord""). Aside from the Hacketts' misadventures, however, the personal matters here are unconvincing and banal, reaching their nadir in Harry and Elaine's tormented, post-race dialogues about making a commitment (""I'd love to have your child, Harry. . . It would be a good one. It wouldn't have a whore's blood, I promise you""). Only for sailing buffs, then, who might find the moderately vivid racing descriptions congenial enough to compensate for the general sogginess.

Pub Date: Jan. 12th, 1980
Publisher: Norton