Monday, March 5, 2012

Book Review: The Starboard Sea by Amber Dermont

Everyone has a story.  Browse through the Memoir section of your local independent bookstore, and you'll find hundreds of them. They'll give you a slant, a spin, an angle of each person's life, the way they would have you see it.  Ask their friends, their business associates, and they'll give you a totally different story.  You could even sit down with the person in question and listen to their life story, and you'll almost have a picture of the entire life, from the high-crashing waves to the calm eddies that hide along the shore.  But always hidden deep within the cores of our being are the pearls of our lives, which we clamp shut, hold fast, and no amount of muscle will let anyone see it.   They are secrets, desires, the very foundations by which we see the rest of the world.  Every once in a while, a person will come along and dive deep down into our souls, and we will let them in.  We will tell them our stories, showing our pearls and the sand from which they came.

The Starboard Sea by Amber Dermont is just such a novel.  It becomes a porthole into the inner lives of the characters, especially the main one, Jason Prosper, who, little by little, tell us all his story.  Each character is fully developed, fleshed out, with words that are worth reading completely, not skimming over as part of "something every author has to do."  The writing is lyrical, soothing, much like the seaside town that Amber Dermont is writing about.  The frequent forays into yachting, racing with the upper class New England town boys that seem to have no problems or cares in the world are done exquisitely, giving the reader an opportunity to experience the thrill of riding on the open ocean without the boring details that, ironically as he tried to do the same, Melville used in Moby Dick.  I think that if Dermont had written a book about the White Whale, I would have read enthralled from Ishmael to Ahab and through the Romantic landscape of the seas.  Most of all, I enjoyed the intimate contact between Jason and Aiden, and with Cal through his memories, and with Chester and the rest.  I do wish that we could have seen more of Jason showing Aiden the Pearls in his life, or the other times he let people into his inner "oyster," for lack of a better word.  But we have to be content with the side glances of these, as we should never see these ourselves, (one of the distinct advantages of writing in the 1st person) since Jason is telling the story himself.

I've read many debut novels recently, as an employee of Borders, and I have always been impressed with the potential in each of these authors to become better, to write truly great literature.  I look forward to reading the follow up to Ford's The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, but I realized, as I finished this novel, that Dermont is closest to achieving those masterpieces.  I look forward to those as well.  I only wish that she had taught the Creative Writing course I took in my small university in Georgia, as I would have learned much.  I thank you, Dr. Dermont, for giving a window into how you write, how the stories are meant to be told, and only hope that more people will witness the sea the way you have written it.

Short Review: If Dermont had written Moby Dick, I would have relished every word.  The foray into the world of New England boarding schools, with all the heartbreak and ecstasy, is done wonderfully. Jason Prosper navigates his way through love, death, and all the swirling eddies in between in this amazing debut novel.  I hope it finds it's way to the top of all the bookstores' "Staff Picks" displays.  I know it would mine.

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