Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The experience of being on the Great Lakes, the North Coast of this blog, is too big for the blog format. For a sense of the Great Lakes at their most beautiful and powerful, I strongly recommend you read Peter Geye’s new first novel, Safe from the Sea.

The novel opens with Olaf Torr, and his adult son Noah, in a highly charged reunion on the north shore of Lake Superior.

Noah is angry at his father for leaving him and his sister Solveig after he survived a shipwreck during a Lake Superior winter storm. But Noah tries to set aside his anger when Olaf calls, says he is “sick” and asks for help.

Noah’s wife, Natalie, has had several miscarriages. She has a chance to get pregnant again, but the window could close with Noah out of town.

Once at his father’s remote cabin, Noah realizes Olaf probably has cancer. The diagnosis is not precise; Olaf will not visit a doctor out of fear he will end life in a hospital.

Shipwrecks or family tension are common plot lines. What makes Safe from the Sea noteworthy is how Geye generates page-turning suspense by gradually revealing what happened to Olaf - - and by drawing the reader into the mystery of whether or not father and son will reconcile.

It would be easy to demonize Olaf and make Noah, Natalie and Solveig victims. However, Geye makes each character complete and gives them virtues along with flaws.

I am not sure if the Raganorak, Olaf’s ship, existed but Geye’s combination of careful research and narrative convinces you the ship and shipwreck are real.

These achievements are done with great writing. In describing modern navigation, Olaf grumbles, “Now it’s just a bunch of satellites telling you where you are and where to go. Back then, it was still something beautiful to steer a ship.”

As Noah drives northeast, through the night, “Just clear of Taconite Harbor and the Two Islands he saw the sun rise over the water, remembering the adage about a red sky in the morning. It was red - - the sky over the lake - - and lowering . . . There was [a storm] stewing in the distance.”

Loaded as it is with emotion and landscape, Safe from the Sea is less than 250 pages long, leaving the reader wishing for more.

To order this book, see your local bookseller or contact unbridled books.
For more information on Peter Geye, go to the author's website.
For more information on Lake Superior and its ships, visit the Lake Superior Maritime Visitor’s Center in Duluth, Minnesota - - or go to