CHANGE OF COURSE by Joseph T. Klempner


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A stripped-down novella about a man’s last sailing trip with his terminally ill brother. The narrator, who sounds an awful lot like the author—he’s a middle-aged lawyer named Joe with three children who’s had some success with crime novels that bear a certain resemblance to Felony Murder (1995) and Shoot the Moon (1997)—begins with a foreword claiming that the story he’s about to tell is true, based on the sea log he kept 15 years ago when he joined his younger brother Jack, 39, on a trip aboard the 36-foot sloop Sea Legs to distant Walker Island. Despite his inexperience as a sailor, Joe welcomes Jack’s invitation as a sign that he’s turning away from thoughts of the unspecified fatal disease he’s been diagnosed with to more constructive celebrations of life. And the two men begin their 1500-mile cruise across the Atlantic celebrating with all the calculated midlife abandon of John Cassavettes heroes. They hug each other, they revisit the scenes of their shared youth, they share banalities about first love, they sail through a wicked storm, they enjoy the chance to reverse their typical roles, with Jack playing captain and his older brother the first mate. As Joe says, however, “I’m a great believer in omens,” and his presentation throughout is so weightily metaphoric that few readers will share his surprise when Jack tells him that there is no Walker Island; the spot is just the arbitrary latitude and longitude Jack’s picked to slip off the sloop, leaving Joe to sail back home alone. Frantic to talk his brother out of his plan, and convinced that his legal training and his closeness to his brother make him the ideal person for the job, Joe tries every argument he can think of. In the manner of a seagoing ‘Night, Brother, Jack has unsurprising answers for every one. Though the treatment is more sincere than arresting, most readers will know on their own whether they want to hear the two brothers play out an argument that usually goes on inside one person.

Pub Date: Aug. 14th, 1998
ISBN: 0-312-18563-4
Page count: 144pp
Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 1998


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