Sunday, May 25, 2014

Ship of Fools: The Plover by Brian Doyle

The Plover is a small trawler twenty feet long by eight feet wide by seven feet deep. Captain Declan O'Donnell has plied the coast of Oregon in his trawler fishing and doing a bit of charter work. He has refitted the boat with a mast and red sails for flair and long travel on little fuel for the engine. The sight of the rig causes derisive shouts and laughter by fellow captains, but Declan is unfazed. He is determined to take an aimless amble west over the mountains at the bottom of the sea, free of the alcohol that has been a personal demon. Heading west and then west, the traditional direction of men who have sailed from their past, Declan has decided to abandon the edge of land and take on a life of solitude free from social constraints. The challenges of the sea and the necessary solitary maintenance of the Plover will structure his existence of exploration and survival on the Pacific.

Sailing and motoring on the Pacific Ocean is much more difficult than skirting the CONUS northwest coast. Declan learns much about navigating the huge expanse via charts and by enduring storms with high winds and churning waves. At the same time, he becomes more closed and withdrawn in his mental state rather than becoming open and free as he expected. A seagull has chosen to accompany Declan, and he finds himself talking to the bird covertly and overtly though more in jest than actual communication. He tells the gull there will be no thinking on this trip, no recriminations and ruminations. Instead, Declan will immerse himself in learning the true nature of the oceanic territory and its inhabitants. Everything will be ship shape with no complications related to Stateside games with other people, known and unknown.

Solitude builds character, but loneliness is insidious with intruding thoughts and memories that restrict freedom of experience. Declan's spontaneous life review is reluctant and piecemeal, and the reader slowly gains insight into the captain's early life and circumstances on land. But, like the bird plover that is small yet heroic in its migratory feats from one end of the Pacific to the other, Declan carries on to the South Pacific Islands. He hopes to make hit and run visits on land to restock provisions.

The stage is set for chance encounters with people who will intrude on Declan's flight from himself. The cast of characters include: Enrique a Russian pirate who draws a bead on the Plover, Piko a widower friend of Declan who escaped to an island after a tragic family accident, Pipa the paralyzed and mute daughter of Piko, Taromauri an island widower who lost her daughter to the sea and her husband to grief, Danilo a survivor of the harsh Russian wasteland who escaped to became an ocean pilot, and "the minister" an idealistic island minister for fisheries and foreign affairs with no wife or children. The seagull, a variety of visiting birds, and a couple of rats comprise the list of fellow voyagers. All of these characters join Declan on the Plover intruding on his living space and his solitude and making him feel a bit like a fool.

The reader joins Declan and his passengers on the journey and has access to the thoughts, actions backgrounds, and experiences of man and beast. Each living thing on this ship of fools learns to deal with and care for the others. The personal philosophies of the crew strengthen and triumph as life stories (real and imagined) are shared. It's always about the story telling, isn't it?

The sea and eventually the land offer solace, opportunity, hope, redemption, catharsis, resolution, and profound love and self-acceptance. I joined the boat early, went through my own vicarious sea changes, and reluctantly pulled into port as I finished the novel. I highly recommend The Plover, a magical mystery tour with as many layers of understanding as the Pacific Ocean's seamount environments.

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