THE COCONUT BOOK by Richard Maynard


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Maynard's sure-handed first novel is a quiet, affecting take on the desert-island standard. A floating coconut, tied up in denim strips, is plucked out of the ocean by a party of fishermen near Bougainville in the South Pacific. Inside is a paperback novel with pencil scrawlings between every printed line. It's the diary of a nameless survivor of a plane wreck, who was washed up on a tiny island with the clothes on his back, the novel and two pencils, a pair of eyeglasses and a penknife. Certain of the imminence of death, he began the journal to provide ballast for his seesawing sanity. Its events unfold over a period of months: At first daunted by the prospects of finding drinking water, catching crabs and harvesting shellfish, he gradually applies his analytic powers to the practicalities of survival. But as his diet improves, he starts to create ghosts--he has long conversations with a former schoolteacher about his predicament and the meaning of life, and he ravishes a luscious woman whom he calls Deirdre. He finds a realm of pure pleasure, too, a beautiful offshore reef populated by fish of every shape and color. Reef Four, as he names it, becomes the equivalent of a mistress: it's his solace, his inspiration, the source of his deepest fears and disappointments. And then the music begins. Nights, it seems to float in over the ocean. Next, he decides he sees the music's source--another island on the horizon, and soon he's climbing a palm tree, bugling on a shell, signaling to the revelers he sees dancing on the far shore. As an even more tenuous reality sets in, space between the lines runs out and the diary ends. All in all, Maynard's probing eye contributes to a subtle, moving treatment of what's at heart an old and predictable story.

Pub Date: Oct. 20th, 1986
Publisher: Grove