Heberden (Outside Man, 2014, etc.) paints a particular portrait of American wants, values, and ideals in this contemporary literary novel.
When Eric Sumners decides to buy a boat for his wife, it seems like a simple enough plan. It’s the action of a rich man, certainly, but no more complex than the purchase of any expensive, beautiful romantic gesture. But while viewing his ideal ship, Eric stumbles on something that calls these ideas of beauty, art, and romance into question. A glimpse of a rowboat made by a neighboring craftsman creates a spark of imagination in Eric, and the gaudy, famed Nickerson ketch doesn’t seem nearly as appealing—much less artistic—as something built from scratch, made of wood with care. A true, genuine labor of love. But Eric’s whims and dreams don’t only concern him, and the size of the undertaking means much more than he could have anticipated. For Scott McKay, the disaffected artisan who made the boat Eric has become so enamored with, the wealthy man’s dreams represent an opportunity to prove himself to his business partners and live up to his potential by building this remarkable project. Meanwhile, Scott’s partner, Jack Colby, sees the project as a foolhardy risk, especially since he’s ready to leave the dying art of boat-building and repair behind. And Scott’s feelings for Jack’s wife, Ellen, only complicate matters. The story’s point of view shifts from chapter to chapter, lending insight into each character in turn as they move around and past each other in an intricate dance of wants, needs, and secrets. With hopes, dreams, love, and money on the line, conflict is inevitable, and no one knows all the other players well enough to prevent escalation or even, perhaps, to skirt disaster. There is an exquisite balance among character study, conflict, and scene here, as the details of the boat’s construction and the area’s history intertwine with plot and character. There are perhaps a few expository sections that go on too long or ring as awkward, but readers should get past these hiccups quickly enough and be richly rewarded with a truly excellent piece of Americana.
A complex and engrossing read about building a boat that’s rich in character and spirit.