Safe From The Sea, by Peter Geye.
In that instant he realized -- almost as if he'd always been aware of the fact -- that his father's story mattered only if Noah could someday tell it himself, to a son or daughter, to another Torr who could keep it alive -- here, on a blustery November night -- for a third generation. - from Safe From The Sea, page 120 -
Thirty-five years after surviving the wreck of his Great Lakes ore boat (the Ragnarok), Olaf Torr is facing his own mortality ... this time from cancer. He contacts his estranged son, Noah, and asks him to come back to Minnesota, to the old cabin in the wilderness where Noah's childhood memories lay. Safe From the Sea is the story of a father and son who travel from estrangement towards forgiveness; it is the story of a shipwreck and a man who survived it; but more importantly, it is about family connection and the way stories bind us from one generation to the next.
When Noah arrives in the wilds of Minnesota, everything is the same, yet everything has changed. There is a story he wants to hear -- that of the wreck of the Ragnarok, a story which has only been partially exposed in the annals of history, a story about what his father experienced on that cold, icy night back in November of 1967.
"We took a couple more waves before we got on course, but we did manage to get turned around. We were looking at two and a half hours," Olaf mused. "Two and a half, maybe three. That's nothing. It's the amount of time it takes to play a baseball game or drive from Duluth to Misquah. It's nothing."
"But it was too long," Noah said. - from Safe From the Sea, page 96 -
Intertwined in the story of the wreck is Noah's history with his father and how that history has impacted his present life. Noah begins to re-examine he and his wife Natalie's struggle with infertility and the stress that places on a marriage. As Olaf's life winds down, Noah discovers that his and Natalie's lives are just beginning.
Peter Geye's debut novel is stunning and gorgeously written. The story of the Ragnarok is spell-binding, but it is the moments of introspection which I enjoyed the most. The backdrop of the Minnesota wilderness, the approach of winter, the howling of the wolves across the lake -- all of it works to create an unforgettable novel of a father and son who come to recognize that what connects them is stronger than what has divided them.
Would it have been better if his father had died on that night all those years ago? Whether this last was said or only thought he did not know, but soberer for it having crossed his mind, he forgave the old man all at once. Forgave him everything. He wondered whether his father would forgive him.
In the spirit of being his father's son, he walked back up to the cabin in his boots alone. - from Safe From The Sea, page 136 -
Taken from an old Norse myth, the name of the ill-fated ore boat the Ragnarok defines the major theme of the novel -- that despite disaster (or maybe because of it) there is hope in the future, that out of tragedy there may be rebirth. It is this idea of redemption and forgiveness which permeates Safe From The Sea.
I read much of this book out loud to Kip as we drove across the country together. The poetry of Geye's writing, along with the dramatic story of a tragic wreck combined to make this one of the best books I've read this year. Literary fiction lovers who also appreciate great adventure stories will love this novel.
Five stars out of five.
Catch all of Wendy Robard's reviews in her fabulous blog, "Caribousmom".