A crusty boat captain becomes energized when some damsels in distress need rescuing in this debut romance.
Heading into his 70s, the Captain, as he is known on Juneau’s waterfront, looks back on a decadeslong career fishing the treacherous currents that roil southeast Alaska’s craggy coast. His reminiscences stretch back to a bucolic, river-village boyhood spent frolicking in the shaggy forest and toasting salmon parts pilfered from the local cannery over a fire. He moves on to an atmospheric portrait of old Juneau centered on the town’s red-light district, where the bookish Captain would sit in whorehouse parlors reading aloud from Lady Chatterley’s Lover. The outlawing of these establishments, so important to an unmarried fisherman, sends him into an alcoholic funk and forms a central charge in his brief against churchgoing moralizers. Nearing retirement, the Captain heads out for halibut on his boat, Raven Walks, accompanied by the half-Norwegian, half-Tlingit giant Babe and the sharp-eyed George, nicknamed Gloria after coming out to his crewmates. Here the narrative snaps into focus as the fishermen rescue three women from a tour ship after their rowboat capsizes. This section of the novella, featuring dangerous maneuvers in heavy seas and a delicate Coast Guard chopper medevac, grips the reader with tense action and absorbing maritime procedures. The denouement then subsides into a waterlogged love story. The Captain forms an attachment with one of the women, a fetching redhead called Little Eva, who is lead singer in a band. She invites him to open her show with the story of the rescue then rewards him with a backstage deep kiss in dishabille; alas, a 40-year age difference leaves the smitten Captain with little hope for their future together. Forrer’s loose-limbed prose abounds in land- and seascapes—“There was a frosting of silvery light on the moss on the old pole and it stood there all lit up with the dark green trees behind it”—that are well-observed and poetic. (The many illustrations by Isaac superbly evoke the mood of the scenes.) The wispy story amounts to a shambolic fisherman-mermaid romance, but the richly textured setting makes it resonate.
A meandering but evocative fishing story with a surprising catch.