A cautionary tale of obsession and what it can cost tells of three generations whose devotion to sailing holds them together until it sunders them.
Through the first-person voice of middle son Josh and smooth tacking between the present and past, Lynch (Truth Like the Sun, 2012, etc.) charts the shifting fortunes of the Johannssen family. Gramps, known as Grumps, and his son, Bobo Jr., design sailboats in the Pacific Northwest, where the son is a racing legend. His wife, a physics teacher, explains the science of wind and water to their three children, while he bullies them into mastering everything else from stem to stern. The eldest, Bernard, and Josh become accomplished sailors, but little sister Ruby is possessed of marine magic. When she inexplicably scuttles her chances for a spot in the Olympics, however, it’s clear there are cracks in the Johannssen crew. Ruby will abandon sailing for volunteer work on a hospital ship off Africa; Bernard heads out to sea solo and a gypsy life partly supported by illegal butterfly sales. The Bobos run their boat business into trouble, and Mom emerges from a decade of work on a 150-year-old math riddle unsure if she should submit her solution. Josh remains close to home, working in a boatyard and living in a marina on one of his family’s designs. No longer a competitive sailor, he still keeps a mental log of the Johannssens’ past glories and recent struggles. The book’s present concerns his eccentric co-workers and neighbors, including one named Noah who provides comic counterpoint on familial harmony in the animal kingdom with a Morgan Freeman imitation and quotes from the voice-over of March of the Penguins. Josh’s marina life and computer dates offer glimpses of an alternative family amid his father’s push to bring the clan together for one last race.
Lynch dissects an uncommon family with, after all, more than one thing in common in a highly readable tale.