Stewart tells the story of a globe-trotting music box in this debut spiritual novel.
Retired sea captain James Calloway is dozing on the beach near his Alabama home when something unusual appears in the water: “As the sun set with reds and burnt orange, in the distance, a wooden box rode the waves.” Calloway inspects the container after it washes ashore: it holds seven antique rum bottles, a Hebrew scroll, and a music box made of gopher wood. What’s more, it’s accompanied by an honor guard of different types of birds that don’t normally flock together. Calloway brings the box home for his wife’s inspection, and she thinks the objects must have survived from biblical times. Each night, when his work is done, Calloway takes the music box and one of the bottles down to the beach. He drinks the heavenly liquid, which allows him to hear the otherworldly music that the box plays. Then he drifts off to sleep, and in his dreams, he travels with the floating box around the world, which washes up on different shores to answer the prayers of people who most need its spiritual power, such as a boy taken from his parents by pirates and a girl suffering from polio. Stewart’s prose manages to capture some of the fairy-tale magic of its story. However, he often repeats words and phrases in a way that robs the narrative of its poetry: “Unlike his father before him, he became cold-hearted over the years. He was not generous with his wealth over the years. He was not passionate about sharing his wealth with his fellow man in need or even helping the poor or indigent who lived in the lower portside of Italy.” The individual stories in the dreams, too, are not always as well-crafted as they could have been, often relying on simplistic narratives and stock characters. However, the novel’s overall structure—with its soothing Gulf Coast framing device and vignettes set in different ports across the globe—is pleasant and compelling enough to keep the reader moving forward.
An inoffensive, lightweight Christian parable.