Saturday, February 28, 2015

A Ship Made of Paper

On a ship that's made of paper, I will sail the seven seas...
just to bring you home with me.

Scott Spencer's novel, A Ship Made of Paper, is about two couples. The man-Daniel-in one falls obsessively in love with the woman-- Iris-- in the other.   She reciprocates the affection though not quite as maniacally. The two become illicit, sweet, and steamy lovers.

In one scene in the book, Kate, the woman who is being jilted, approaches a bar for a drink.

"The bartender is a man in his sixties, tall and stately, with delicate broken veins in his hollow cheeks and thick authoritative eyes. He looks like a New England Protestant patriarch, he should be a county judge and Kate wonders what wrong turns have brought him to this place, standing behind a noisy bar wearing a red cut-away jacket and a black bow tie."

And this captures a good deal of my take-away from the novel--though I don't think it was the author's intent to make this scene so meaningful.  The decisions we make, the wrong turns and the right turns, bring us to where we are.

Is love the only meaningful driver? If we make decisions based on love are we making the right turns even if the road ahead is hazardous and it's dangerous and could be considered dangerously irresponsible to drive thataway?

The situation for Iris and Daniel is complicated because he is white, she black.  The book is set during the time of the OJ Simpson trial. The community is nervous because kids, mostly African Americans, have escaped from a local home for troubled boys and are frightening, legitimately and otherwise, the predominantly white town.  Kate, a writer by trade, has been authoring a series of articles about the Simpson trial which are unequivocal with assertions of his guilt. It is in this context that Iris and Daniel tryst, meeting in his office and elsewhere, stealing moments to be close. 

Spencer is an excellent story teller. He is able to take a scene that could be described skeletally and flesh it out so that the reader can "see" the scene in all of its nuances.  This is the fourth book I have read by him. The first one I read is actually the book that comes sequentially after this one. In it Kate -though none of the other characters- features prominently.  That book is called Man in the Woods and it is excellent--better than this one.  I also read Endless Love which I can not, not recommend, strongly enough.  (Anyone interested can see that I wrote reviews about both of these in this blog).  

Nobody believes more strongly than I do that love is the key to happiness. Have it and you dance. Don't have it and you settle for substituting other things for love and your life is not as rich. Not sure though that I can support Daniel's behavior in this one. Not sure that what he has is love for Iris as much as a need to fill a void. I can see why he desires Iris, she is depicted as beautiful in her heart and every other way.   But I am not sure Daniel is doing right by either Iris or Kate. You would have to read the book to see what I mean--to explain my reasoning here would be to give away too much.

In sum, do I recommend A Ship Made of Paper?  Yes, absolutely, but not as strongly as Man in the Woods.   

For whatever it is worth, if you have spent time in the Hudson Valley of New York, you will see that this book clearly takes place in Rhinebeck (though Spencer changes the name of the town).  I have a friend who lives in nearby Hyde Park and have spent some time in the region. I think if you are from that area you might enjoy the book if for no other reason than the regular references to places that will be familiar. 

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