No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Monday, March 01, 2010

2010/21: Galveston -- Paul Quarrington

Maywell's concept of the globe was based in large part on his reading, and rereading, of William Dampier's A New Voyage Round the World. So in Maywell's mind there was the Atlantick Sea, and Dampier Cay was in the Caribee. He thought of the largest island to the southwest as Hispaniola, although he was grudgingly aware that it had at some time been divided into Haiti and the Dominican Republic. [He] knew his unique reference points made him an object of curiosity. Fishing clients often grilled him about the immediate geography: Maywell might refer to New Andalusia, which would earn him a look of confusion, then as much laughter as the clients thought they could get away with. (p.132)

A Category Five hurricane is heading for the (fictional) Caribbean island of Dampier Cay. All right-thinking people have abandoned the island. Nevertheless, visitors are arriving: Gail and Sorvig, a pair of feckless females looking for sun, sea and sex (they picked the wrong week for their holiday but will not be dissuaded); Jimmy Newton, veteran storm-chaser; Beverly, who's lost parents and child and husband; Caldwell, a lottery winner who has become detached from the world. And there are the die-hards who won't leave the island: Maywell Hope, who likes to think he's descended from one of the pirates who sailed with Dampier -- his family have a history of ne'er-do-wells and mavericks -- and who has only ever read one book (Dampier's New Voyage); his common-law wife Polly who runs the Water's Edge hotel; the hotel's handyman, Lester, given to writing psalms.

The storm is coming, and it shakes a lot of things up.

It's not a novel about the Galveston floods of 1900, though Beverly and Caldwell find a shared fascination with that day of devastation. It's not even a novel about serious weather. It's a novel about the moments of grace and courage that are created by the pressure of the natural world's ferocity. The humour here is wry and dark and unobtrusive: you could read this as a tragedy. But there is beauty and redemption, and people overcoming their secret losses and griefs without ever stating them aloud. Most of all, it's about people who've grown numb rediscovering what it means to feel alive.

Quarrington died earlier this year. He was 56.

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