Sunday, March 03, 2019

Fortnightly Book, March 3

Garland Roark (1904-1985) was born in Groesback, Texas, near Houston. As a boy he got some minor fame in the area for continuing his paper route in the midst of the 1915 Galveston hurricane. His college career was cut short when he found that he needed to do more to support his mother and sister, so he took up a long series of odd jobs, many of which had to do with the oil and the cargo shipping industry. The personalities he found involved in the latter in particular served as the material from which he would draw his major claim to success later in life: nautical adventures. The next fortnightly book, The Lady and the Deep Blue Sea, published in 1958, which comes from the library of my grandparents, seems to have been well regarded, but there's not all that much on it. It's largely swamped by Roark's biggest success, his first novel, the bestselling Wake of the Red Witch (1946), which was adapted into a John Wayne movie. But the NY Times review for it (by E. B. Garside) called The Lady and the Deep Blue Sea "progressively gripping and expertly handled", which sounds very promising, and among the scattered popular reviews I've found, I haven't come across a genuinely negative one yet. Some people seem to have had more endurance than others for the detailed descriptions of clipper ships; but as I'm the kind of reader whose favorite part of Moby Dick is the digression on the classification of whales, that's not likely to be a problem for me.

Captain Philip Broadsider is a clipper ship captain in the 1850s with a reputation for flair, so much of a reputation for stylistic flamboyance, in fact, that the owner of the captain is seriously starting to question his judgment. To save his career, his wife, Jenny Broadsider, negotiates a test of his abilities and competence: a clipper ship race from Melbourne to Boston. If he brings the clipper Calcutta Eagle into harbor ahead of the Emperor, he'll get half ownership in the Eagle. Everything rides on it, and at sea, any number of mishaps and accidents may happen, and the owner is on board watching everything with an eagle eye. But Jenny is absolutely determined, regardless of what happens, to win her husband the race, the half-ownership, and the confirming seal on the title, "Prince of the Sea Captains". It seems widely regarded as a rousing story about how marriage can make people more than they could otherwise be, so perhaps it's a fitting follow to last fortnight's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

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