Thursday, March 18, 2010

'In the Wake of the Boatman'

by Jonathon Scott Fuqua
Fiction, 2008
Bancroft Press, hardback, 305 p.
From the front flap:
Puttnam Douglas Steward isn’t having an identity crisis – he is one. To his father Carl, he’s a disappointment, and has been since the day he came home from the hospital. To his mother, he’s “Mama’s Boy,” and will forever be nothing less and nothing more.

The Army thinks he’s a hero, having single-handedly saved his troops from an ambush when they stumble upon a major, unknown supply line in Vietnam, then exposing a major Soviet espionage ring in the U.S.

Only Milton, Putt’s college friend turned environmental activist, and Putt’s sister Mary see that something is deeply confused about Puttnam Steward. Yet neither of them knows that the only time Putt ever truly feels happy is when he wears a woman’s clothes and becomes, for a brief, fleeting moment, someone else. And they don’t know how much that disgusts him.
I actually read this back in December and shame on me for getting so behind on my reviews, even with whatever was going in real life at the time. Normally, having read the book so long ago I would expect the story to have already faded from memory. However, in this case, the characters, and several scenes from the book have still stayed with me, which I think says a lot.

I enjoyed getting to know the main character Puttnam, but, it wasn’t just him, all the characters came alive on the pages of this complex, character-driven family drama. I also quite liked that even though most of the time I hated the father for how cold, and stubborn, he was, there were still the odd moments when I almost felt a kind of sympathy for him. Like I could almost understand what made him act the way he did toward his son.

I thought the writing occasionally felt a bit forced but overall the prose was wonderfully rich. The author captured the emotions of the characters brilliantly, the complexity, the awkwardness, the love despite everything. As a reader, I truly cared what happened to them.

In the Wake of the Boatman is at its heart the story of a dysfunctional relationship between a father and a son, and of a journey to find oneself. It actually reminded me a little of the movie, American Beauty, not for the storyline so much but for depicting quite vividly the repression of one’s true self, and the emotional consequences that brings.

Can we ever be truly happy if we deny who we are? Can we ever escape our childhood?
All in all, a moving, thought-provoking book.
“I’ve got no endurance for life right now – no resilience. I’m waiting for the tide to change. I’m searching for an easy place to put in.”
With her front teeth, she bit at her bottom lip, then released it. For a heartbeat, it remained ghostly white, dented, and possibly deflating, then blood rushed back in. “Despite what you’ve heard, time does not heal all wounds. Some things are supposed to hurt forever. That’s how you know they were poignant.”
He nodded remotely, unexpectedly unnerved. “Poignant?”
“Significant to your life.”
Buy In the Wake of the Boatman at: Amazon.com | BookDepository.co.uk

Thank you to Harrison of Bancroft Press for the opportunity to read this book.

My Rating: 4/5
(#66 for 2009)

Also reviewed by:
Musings of a Bookish Kitty
Devourer of Books
Literary License
Medieval Bookworm
kiss a cloud
Linus's Blanket
Reading Matters
Book, Line, and Sinker
Books for Breakfast
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4 comments:

  1. With so many reviews around the blogosphere, I can't believe I haven't paid more attention to this one. Thanks for the great review. I like the comparison to American Beauty--even if it's not a direct comparison.

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  2. I loved American Beauty, so the comparison is enough to intrigue me. And like Andi, I can't believe I missed all those other reviews! Somehow this hadn't made it onto my radar yet.

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  3. This has been on my TBR list for the longest time! I really need to pick it up. Love your review.

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  4. Andi - It probably didn't hurt that H and I had re-watched American Beauty not that long ago so it was kind of still in my mind, but there was something about the characters hiding their true selves, that reminded me of the characters in American Beauty.

    Nymeth - As I mentioned to Andi above, we recently watched American Beauty again (after first seeing it years ago) and I'd forgotten just how funny it is, along with the tragedy. Plus I do love me some Kevin Spacey! ;)

    Vasilly - Thanks. I hope you enjoy it when you get a chance to finally read it.

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