July 28, 2009
Blue Water by A. Manette Ansay
2006 Harper Perennial
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)
New York Times bestselling author A. Manette Ansay delivers the unforgettable story of two families united by tragedy -- and one woman's deeply emotional journey toward a choice she'd never thought possible
On an ordinary morning in Fox Harbor, Wisconsin, Meg and Rex Van Dorn's lives are irrevocably changed when a drunk driver slams into Meg's car, killing the couple's six-year-old son, Evan. In a town in which everyone knows everybody else, it's no surprise that Meg and the driver, Cindy Ann Kreisler, were once the best of friends. Now, as Meg recovers from her own injuries, she and Rex find themselves unable to cope with their anger and despair, especially after Cindy Ann returns -- with a mere slap on the wrist -- to the life she lived before the accident: living in a beautiful house, enjoying her own three daughters, all of whom walked away from the accident unharmed.
Mornings, we woke with an ache in our throats, a sourness in our stomachs, that had nothing to do with Evan. The truth was that, with each passing month, he was harder to remember, harder to see. I felt as if I were grasping at the color of water, the color of the wind or the sky. And this only made me angrier. My mind returned, again and again, to Cindy Ann, to what she'd done. When I passed Evan's room, the closed door like a fist, I thought about how Cindy Ann had destroyed us. When I saw other people's children, I promised myself that someday, Cindy Ann would pay.
In their rage and grief, Meg and Rex buy a boat to sail around the world, hoping to put as much distance between themselves and Cindy Ann Kreisler as possible. Adrift in the company of other live-board cruisers, Meg tries to believe that she and Rex have left their bitterness behind. But when she returns to Fox Harbor for her older brother's wedding, she is forced to face the complex ties that bind her to the woman who has wounded her so badly. For, as Meg knows better than anyone, Cindy Ann has secrets and sorrows of her own, dating back to the summer of their friendship.
Impassioned, insightful, and beautifully written, Blue Water is the story of people learning to face the unthinkable -- a compelling affirmation of the human potential for forgiveness, redemption, and grace.
After spending two weeks cruising the San Juan Islands with my husband, aboard my dad's boat two summers ago, I picked up a copy of Ansay's lyrical novel after hearing high praise from fellow booklovers. I was a little hesitant to read it right away, though, as the aspects of grief (or to be more specific, anger) might be all too similar to my husband's and my personal situation with the loss of our daughter. Feeling the longing to be out on a boat again, and yet with no cruising planned for the near future, I decided to give Blue Water a try. I was pleasantly surprised that the details of Meg and Rex's grief were not gratuitous or maudlin. If anything, the death of their son and the sorrow that followed merely provided a backdrop to the story, with the emphasis on their anger and desire to move away from their community. While some may find the sailing segments dull or monotonous, I thoroughly enjoyed this aspect of the novel, fondly remembering the tranquility of life aboard The Lady Mick.
On ocean sailing:
Forget what you've read about the ocean. Forget white sails on a blue horizon, the romance of it, the beauty. A picnic basket in a quiet anchorage, the black-tipped flash of gulls. The sound of the wind like a pleasant song, the curved spine of the coast—
Such images belong to shore. They have nothing whatsoever to do with the sea.
Imagine a place of infinite absence. An empty ballroom, the colors muted, the edges lost in haze. The sort of dream you have when you've gone beyond exhaustion to a strange, otherworldly country, a place I'd visited once before the months that followed the birth of my son, when days and nights blurred into a single lost cry, when I'd find myself standing over the crib, or rocking him, breathing the musk of his hair, or lying in bed beside Rex's dark shape, unable to recall how I'd gotten there. As if I'd been plucked out of one life and dropped, wriggling and whole, into another. Day after day, week after week, the lack of sleep takes its toll. You begin to see things that may or may not be there. You understand how the sailors of old so willingly met their deaths on the rocks, believing in visions of beautiful women, sirens, mermaids with long, sparkling hair.
The crest of a wave becomes a human face, openmouthed, white-eyed, astonished. The spark of a headlight appears in the sky, edges closer, fades, edge closer still. There's a motion off the bow, and I clutch at the helm, catch myself thinking, Turn!
But, eventually, I learn to let my eyes fall out of focus. Blink, look again. Wipe my sweating face. There is nothing out there but gray waves, gray waves.
Clouds. A translucent slice of moon.
As much as I loved cruising the San Juans, the idea of being at sea for months (or years!), sailing on the wide open ocean has no appeal to me. Too much can go wrong.
...Lightning split the sky like glass, glittery pieces scattering across the dark water. I ran through the cockpit and down the companionway, the sound of the wind rising, thickening, reminding me of the tornado I'd seen once, as a child, touching down in my grandmother's fields. Safety lines hung at the foot of the stairs; I tossed a set up to Rex.
"Portals and hatches!" he shouted.
The ocean was pitching now, a confusion of waves that splashed through the open portals. One by one, I screwed them shut, clinging like a monkey to the grab rails. I'd just reached the forward hatch when Chelone pitched forward into what seemed like an endless trough. A torrent of water knocked me down and I rolled beneath the table, sputtering, banging my head against the brass pedestal. More water poured through the companionway, flooding the bilge; Chelone's engine sputtered, died. One by one, the floorboards covering the lockers began popping up, sloshing around like small, wooden rafts. Pulling myself onto the sodden settee, I wedged my torso between the table and the bulkhead just as the rain began: staccato, fierce, a battery of bullets. Abruptly, the forward hatch snapped shut, cotter pins stripped by the weight of the incoming water. Momentary darkness. Chelone pitched again, an interior wave rolling into the forward berth, soaking the mattresses, the bookshelves. And then, rearing back, we were swept into a chorus of lightning bolts, bright, singing spears hurling into the sea.
At the very moment I thought of the mast, there came a sound I couldn't have imagined, a sound I would hear only once again in my life. A boom that seemed to reverberate within my very cells, recalibrating flesh and muscle and bone. Blue wires of electricity crackled through the air. My forearms tingled; in an instant, the fine sunbleached hairs were singed away. I thought about Rex, my parents. I remembered, oddly, intensely, a small gray kitten I'd found, half-starved, when I was ten. Evan popped a red crayon into his mouth, spit out the bloody pieces, and I bit into an ice-cream cone, half vanilla, half chocolate, a soft serve Dairy Castle twist. Something was about to happen, something important, I was certain of this, and then Toby's words came back to me, as if he were whispering in my ear.
Are you sure this is the hill you want to die on?
As quickly as it had come, the storm passed over us, continued on its way. I wriggled out from the table, calling, "Rex! Are you up there?"
"More or less."
Yep. I'll stick to calmer waters, thankyouverymuch!
Ansay's prose is engaging and poetic. I quickly became engrossed in the story, but restrained myself from finishing too quickly so I could read it on our trip to Oregon earlier this month. It was perfect for the flights out and I finished just before we touched down in Portland. I'm anxious to give some of her other books a try. I know Vinegar Hill was a big hit, but I'm also intrigued with her memoir, Limbo.
Be sure to check out Ansay's beautiful website/blog. I just discovered she has a new book out this summer. I work in a bookstore! How did I miss this release?!