Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Book review: The Sea Runners

Book review: The Sea Runners
Penguin Books, New York, 1983
279 pages

I want to be fair. This is a novel about dogged everything: determination, courage, loyalty, imagination, strength, stubbornness.

I’m bound to say there’s little excitement in Doig’s first novel. You’d think that death-defying action would add a little bunny to one’s pulse, but I couldn’t point it out. There is a relentless context that animates the characters in The Sea Runners, and swaddles all the environmental features of this story of men against the sea. It’s based on an actual event in the northern Pacific Ocean in the middle of the 19th century, so you know how it turns out.

Four Swedes escaped from a Russian work camp and paddled in a stolen canoe for a couple months on the open ocean to reach the American port of Astoria in Oregon. The story is more interesting than that simple summary, but it merely informs….it does not soar.

I thought of myself as an Ivan Doig fan when I began reading The Sea Runners, and now I understand that I must be specific: I like This House of Sky and I like The Bartender’s Tale, and such.

The emerald clarity of Doig’s stories about the West is a world apart from the drudging redundancy of this book. The character development is relentlessly obvious. It is also narrow and repetitive. Despite his intentions, I’m sure, Doig doesn’t resist running his characters through the same paces, over and over again.

The Sea Runners isn’t a bad story. The determination, courage, loyalty, imagination, strength and stubbornness are in plain view, there’s never any doubt about that.

In fact, there’s no doubt about just about everything in this story.

Nevertheless, Ivan, I love ya, man. I love some of your stories.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

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