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DON’T GIVE UP THE SHIP by Neil Steinberg


Finding My Father While Lost at Sea

by Neil Steinberg

Pub Date: May 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-345-43675-X
Publisher: Ballantine

In an attempt to relive a father’s youth as a navy radio operator, father and son go to sea on a giant ocean liner; father had wanted to write his memoirs, but son takes over the project and turns it into his own rambling analysis of their tempestuous relationship.

In language that touches on the sharp and witty but too frequently descends into the fanciful and hackneyed (as when testing the limits of how many paragraphs one metaphor can last), Chicago Sun-Times journalist Steinberg (The Alphabet of Modern Annoyances, 1996, etc.) rails against his domineering and paranoid father. Steinberg senior spends most of the transatlantic journey worrying and complaining about the details of the trip, while junior steadfastly complains about senior’s complaining. Along the way, we may glean something of life on the ocean, although our heroes do not engage in the working of the ship at all, but merely observe. The tedium of the narrative is occasionally broken with slapstick relief, the most exciting moment being a storm that turns out to have been a dream. The unstartling denouement is junior’s discovery that father and son are in fact equally selfish and fearful—and the journey ends in a screaming match in Florence. The original voyages, taken during Steinberg senior’s summer vacations from teaching, are allowed a welcome 50 pages, dropped into the middle of the rest. When Steinberg removes himself from the narrative, he’s a far better editor of his own writing, and for a moment, you might even glimpse his father as a whole person.

A largely formulaic and whining narrative, suitable for Father’s Day sentimentality and possibly for readers of “lad” mags (it’s a self-professed “dad and lad adventure,” after all). Not, however, to be confused with tales of heroism and sea adventure.