Flat Water Tuesday: A Novel
  • Flat Water Tuesday: A Novel
  • Flat Water Tuesday: A Novel

Flat Water Tuesday: A Novel

3.5 2
by Ron Irwin

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A stunning saga of love, sport, and buried secrets

Rob Carrey is a successful documentary filmmaker who has returned from a shoot to New York City, where he's prepared to separate from Carolyn, his long-time love. But when he finds an invitation to his boarding school reunion in his pile of mail, Rob begins a painful journey into his past--one that will alter the

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A stunning saga of love, sport, and buried secrets

Rob Carrey is a successful documentary filmmaker who has returned from a shoot to New York City, where he's prepared to separate from Carolyn, his long-time love. But when he finds an invitation to his boarding school reunion in his pile of mail, Rob begins a painful journey into his past--one that will alter the course of his life forever.

Years ago, Rob was a scholarship student at the elite Fenton School, where he became a star member of the rowing team. Generations of Fenton men had led the rowing team, known as the God Four, to victory--and Rob would be no exception. But as the team's most important race drew near, and tempers and lusts reached the boiling point, Rob found himself in a dilemma: If he sacrifices everything to win he stands to lose everything that matters. Which is the right path--and where will it lead him and the ones he loves? That is the question at the heart of Ron Irwin's Flat Water Tuesday, a deeply affecting novel about what it means to fight for love and victory, in sport and in life.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Irwin's debut novel alternates between Rob Carrey's present, which chronicles the events leading up to the demise of his relationship with his longtime girlfriend Carolyn, and 15 years into his past as a scholarship student at the prestigious Fenton School. Coming from the fictional working-class town of Niccalsetti, NY, Rob is recruited to row with the God Four, Fenton's varsity rowing team, in his final year of high school—with the main purpose of beating the Warwick School in their annual competition. To do so means guaranteed admission to Harvard, something Rob would never accomplish otherwise. Irwin does a terrific job creating tension as Rob, used to being a single sculler, is pushed to work as part of a team and Rob's need to compete against Connor Payne, the team captain whose family's legacy is well known at Fenton. The strain between Rob and Carolyn is clearly palpable in the events that lead to their breakup, as Irwin accurately captures the somberness when one knows a relationship is about to end. Irwin's story on love, loss, and tragedy marks his as a distinguished new voice. (June)
Kirkus Reviews
Irwin debuts with movingly rendered literary fiction about love and loss, youth and maturity, ambition and its cost. Rob Carrey is a champion. He's won prizes propelling a single-seat racing scull with two oars. Carrey's been recruited for a "post-graduate" high school year by the Fenton School, a posh private Connecticut academy. Carrey, a working-class boy, is alien among legacy children and intends to continue his quest for solitary medals. Instead, he's drafted to fill a slot in the four-man racing crew. His father's ambition is that the Fenton sojourn will earn his son entrance to an elite university. There is a second narrative thread with Carrey, in his 30s, no college degree, turned documentary filmmaker. He's in love with Carolyn, a film editor. Carolyn was once pregnant with Carrey's child, a baby miscarried while he filmed in Africa. Left shattered by Carrey's response, Carolyn wants to end their relationship just as Carrey confronts the suicide of one of his former racing crew. The narrative segment following young Carrey's Fenton year is a powerful study of the muddled, stumbling steps from youth into adulthood, a time when Carrey learns "You will lose things....When you do, there will be no river to run to." Other characters shine: Connor, best of the Fenton rowers, scion of wealth, never able to fulfill his family's ambitions, beautiful and damned in the fashion of a Hemingway hero; Ruth, coxswain, first female to drive the boat, petite, ambitious, focused, yet another boarding-school–rich-family throwaway. Irwin's descriptions are observant and intimate--"as if the boat had found some kind of grace, like a giant bird expanding its wings." Readers become immersed in the Darwinian cruelty of the young reflected against the loneliness of a lost, jaded teacher, then confront a man finding purpose, and close the book after bathing in a deeply evocative, hope-filled conclusion. An elegy to love and loss and reconciliation.
Tom McNeal

A gripping read. If you've ever marveled at the fluidity of a quadruple scull cutting through water in first light, and wondered what makes its 4-man motor work, this book will provide the answers, and then some. Irwin is adept at revealing the tricky bonds between rowers, and the way those bonds can shape--and misshape--a life.
member of the 1993 U.S. National Rowing Team and a Susan Saint Sing

Ron Irwin's rowing tale --Flat Water Tuesday - brings to life a rite of passage that is complex, insightful, and stirring. Inside the gunnels of the rowing shell secrets are kept. Powerful fathers produce legendary sons, and legends arise that haunt some forever. His artistry weaves heroism, rivalry, romance, tragedy, and raw life together inside the ethereal dynamics of a boarding school crew--not any crew, but "The God Four"--which, in the end, leaves all to wrestle with the reckoning that God was indeed watching. Written in the tradition of Dead Poets Society, Ron Irwin's story is a must for anyone who loves rowing, sports, or just a darn good read.
New York Times bestselling author of The Prophet Michael Koryta

Flat Water Tuesday is the best debut novel I've read this year, a compulsively readable dark drama that weaves multiple storylines toward one marvelous denouement. Ron Irwin writes with confidence and skill and authenticity in this exploration of identity and the poisonous fuel of ambition. It will call other books -- A Separate Peace, The Art of Fielding -- to mind but stands alone as an original and powerful work. I'll read anything Irwin writes after this.
J.M. Coetzee

All you ever wanted to know about the world of competitive rowing is contained in the pages of Ron Irwin's new novel, whose hero is not only a prodigious oarsman but the lover of two memorably realized women.
author of Pen/Faulkner Award finalist Model Home Eric Puchner

In Ron Irwin's capable hands, past and present fuse into a haunting meditation on class, guilt, and the perils of victory. You don't need to have set foot in a scull to be swept along by this affecting book. Flat Water Tuesday is the debut of a deft and talented new voice.
author of The Might Have Been Joe Schuster

With echoes of A Separate Peace, Ron Irwin's wonderful Flat Water Tuesday is a masterful coming of age story about making one's place in the world, about the sacrifices love asks of us and of the rewards it may give us, about friendship and responsibility and so many other aspects of being human. It's compelling, moving and often heart-breaking -- all of the things we want good novels to be.
author of Close Your Eyes Amanda Eyre Ward

The opening scene of Ron Irwin's lovely debut novel left me breathless. Irwin writes astutely about finding one's place in the world, testing the limits of our endurance, and how we find the strength to carry on.
New York Times bestselling author of The Starboard Amber Dermont

In taut, muscular prose Irwin details the punishing training regimen of The God Four, a crew of competitive oarsmen who commit themselves body and soul to the pain and glory of their sport. Flat Water Tuesday is a powerful consideration of the exhilarating love of competition and the high cost of victory. Ron Irwin has written a propulsive, heart-stopping story in the tradition of such sporting classics as Alan Sillitoe's "The Loneliness of The Long Distance Runner," and Bernard Malamud's The Natural. Flat Water Tuesday is a world-class champion of a novel.
author of An Uncommon Education Elizabeth Percer

Flat Water Tuesday is more than just a wonderful coming-of-age novel, it's a gripping and beautifully drawn portrait of a man coming to grips with his demons. His unforgettable story will take you through heartbreak and back, where resilience can teach you not just about achievement, but also about love.
author of The Year of the Gadfly Jennifer Miller

A biting, beautiful novel about the cost of winning and the lessons of loss. In Robert Carrey, Ron Irwin has created a character of precision and depth, a man who must learn that he cannot scull through life alone.
Hudson Valley News

A fine coming-of-age novel by a talented new author.
Library Journal
Working-class Rob receives a rowing scholarship to the Fenton School, where the team captain's brutal urge to win leads to tragedy. A hot debut.

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Product Details

St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.50(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.30(d)

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My fragile rowing shell was moving fast and light down the river. It surged forward, then coasted while I recoiled for another stroke. I felt the pull of the sculls in my legs, then in my back. I heard only the splashing and the zing of the water dripping from the blades as I slipped by the ancient school. The endless lawns to starboard turned into soccer fields and then into the practice football field. The freshly painted goalposts marked the end of my practice session, and passing them I tasted my speed, closed my eyes and inhaled it, the vibrations of the boat in my spine.

I leaned back and the shell ran out beneath me, gliding over the water like a bird. A million trees up, the mountain threw rippled reflections across the water. The blades of my sculls kissed the smooth surface as I neared the Fenton School boathouse. I could turn and see the dock floating four inches above the waterline. Even this late in the season I could feel the heat rising up off the banks, as if the valley had kept part of summer’s warmth for the fall. I hunched over and drew a stopwatch from my sweatshirt and did the daily math, looking at the digital numbers through watery eyes. The calculations were easy. I knew how far two thousand meters was down the course and I allowed some time, because you rowed with the current to get down the river and fought it coming back. I was shaving off seconds, all right.

I had a notebook stowed under the foot stretchers and I pulled it out after I slid off the boat’s sliding seat onto the dock. I flattened the pages on my damp thighs to pencil in my new times, saw the improvement and shut the book fast, slid it in the waistband of my rowing trunks. I flipped the scull out of the water to my shoulders, then settled it on my head and waited while it dripped, balancing, my body the fulcrum as the boat gently teeter-tottered against my scalp. Holding the boat steady with my left hand wrapped around a rigger, I bent my knees and picked up the sculls with my right, straightened, and began the careful walk up to the boathouse. When I had negotiated the fifty-seven steps to the dark entrance, I aimed the bow into the straps hanging from the rafters within, then strapped in the stern. I popped open the deck plate and used a crusty, grease-stained towel to wipe the river water from the hull. I pulled the ropes that raised the boat to where it settled into a sliver of reflection in the gloom and tied up, still a little out of breath. I set the sculls upright in their wooden rack and pulled the great sliding doors shut.

As I steamed my way through the clear, early-morning cold of fall toward the school, my knees would start to ache by the time I reached the first buildings. The muscles in my back would tighten and my fingers would begin to burn. It didn’t matter because, thinking about the times in that notebook, I believed I had an edge.

*   *   *

Fenton was one of the few high schools in the country specifically planned to be a rowing school. As I made my way from the boathouse toward the neo-Gothic school buildings, I could see the dark trees and deep green autumn grass beside the water. Although the river ran slow here, its current was still stronger than anything I had experienced in the Black Rock Canal in Niccalsetti where I grew up and where I learned the sport.

The magnificent Schoolhouse overlooked the section of river we raced upon. The Fenton School’s founder had been a coxswain at Yale. Ignorant of, or more likely indifferent to, the muddy slog required to sink foundations in such soft valley soil, he had insisted that the school have this very vantage point beside the water. I could imagine my father walking along these old buildings thinking about this, toying with the idea of putting in a bid himself to drive down the reinforced rods you used to keep old piles like these standing. Busted-out buildings had kept him employed for twenty years in Niccalsetti, a place where they hadn’t replaced the museums and reform schools and prisons for a century and a half. My father still employed stonemasons, skilled second-generation Italians and Brazilians who brought their wives’ cold fettuccini and feijoada to the sites we worked.

After a quick shower and change, I hustled myself through the bright morning sun, my abraded hands held down, stiff and away from my body. The oar handles had torn into my palms, as usual, and I could feel the blisters forming. As I joined the throngs of students already on their way to breakfast I realized I was hungry. Ravenous. I could feel the sheaths of muscles over my gut, hard against my belt buckle. The smell of fresh cut wet grass and the trees just losing their leaves was almost overpowering. I stopped and looked up at the mountains behind the school, willing a sudden wave of nausea to pass. My lungs felt raw.

I was mesmerized by the trees exploding out of the valley, the river snaking slow and thoughtful by the buildings. I always regarded this beauty with a sense of awe. And also anger and disbelief. I’d spent four years slugging it out at the Niccalsetti Senior School where a freight train ran right behind the one ragged football field we had. I’d never considered the existence of schools with this immense, unending, perfectly manicured splendor. It seemed to me that the entire season—all the trees and the grass and the perfection of the water—had been created just for us, the four hundred or so Fenton students who knew for sure they’d live forever.

They had been dropped off here two weeks before along with their trunks stuffed with catalogue clothes and their stereos and their cube fridges and duffel bags and backpacks and suitcases and computers, all of which had been hauled into the dorms by kids and parents with good forehands and firm handshakes. Bank accounts had been opened and topped off and dozens of credit cards had been handed out. Framed posters and Indian tapestries had been taped, nailed, stapled and fun-tacked to the dorm walls. Ratted furniture, passed down from generations of Fenton students, was hauled out of deep storage and deposited in rooms where it would get yet more battered and suffer the stains of hormone rages, late-night binges and furtive blow jobs. Once the parents were gone, the contraband had been unpacked: Ziploc bags of dope, pills, condoms, porno, video games, junk food; more exotic drugs, knives, bottles of pilfered booze. These kids would deposit their youth here, and then move on to other beautiful campuses.

I was still trying to find my way around the place, trying to accept that a high school could have so many corridors and buildings and sub-buildings. Senior year at a boarding school was a bad time to be an outsider and I was a postgraduate rower—a scholarship one at that. I only had nine months of this kind of living and then it would be snatched away again and I’d be sent back to where I came from unless I was very, very fast on the water. Which was just fine by me, because I was dead sure that I was the fastest thing these bastards were ever going to see.

*   *   *

I didn’t even hear Connor Payne approach, quiet and lithe as a panther, and stand just behind me, out of my peripheral vision, in the fashionably wilted Brooks Brothers blazer, Fenton School Boat Club tie and pressed trousers he always wore to class. He fell into step soundlessly alongside me and waited for my reaction. My first thought, when I did notice him and tried to stay cool, was to picture him on the podium wearing his Junior Olympics medal in Belgium. How had he survived the Junior National training camp, skinny as he was? I’d seen pictures of him on the news board at home in the Black Rock Rowing Club’s boathouse, his fists punching the sky in victory. In the newspaper clippings he had seemed bigger, darker, more menacing. I’d been at Fenton for two weeks and he hadn’t even bothered to say hello. I’d learned enough about him to know that he’d choose his time to greet me, and of course it would be now, with my hands looking and feeling like they’d been put through a cheese grater. Like all predators, he had a nose for weakness and wounds.

“What did you do to your hands?” he asked, glancing down quickly and then away, as if I was already embarrassing him.

“I was out sculling today.”

“Let’s see.”

I held them up and he grabbed the side of my right hand, studied it as if he were thinking of bidding on it. The pressure of his bony fingers made my eyes water. “I’m Connor Payne, by the way.” He turned his attention back to the wreckage of my palms. “And you’re Rob Carrey,” he continued, “from Niccalsetti. I voted to have you brought here. It was you or some rower from Philadelphia who’d been caught stealing cars last spring.” He continued to examine the red, sticky ridges of my hands methodically. “These hands are no problem. Bad, surely, but you’re going to be fine.” He let go and checked the watch inside his delicate wrist, a stainless Rolex on a leather band held together with a strip of pink electrical tape.

The sun caught him full in the face. His skin was impossibly pale. In profile his nose was almost a perfect triangle. He was perhaps an inch taller than me but I must have had him by ten pounds. He had long, sinewy limbs, a shock of blond hair—coarse hair, like an animal’s—and his eyes were dark gray, animated only for a second as he looked around furtively, a fellow rule breaker. “Come to the Rowing Cottage and I’ll fix you up.”

I felt ambushed.

“Your high erg scores were the reason I voted for you, by the way. No one else’s came close.” He glanced at me. “Did you fake them? You did, right? I mean, obviously.”

“I didn’t even send them in. Back home, they make about six coaches sign the scores.”

“It doesn’t matter now. You’re here. You’ll have to pull them again for Channing, though. I don’t care if you and your coach lied to us. What’s a few seconds on an application if it gets you out of a place like Niccalsetti? I’d understand your lying to us. I’d respect it. I would.” He nodded encouragingly.

“Want me to pull those scores right now?”

He shook his head, grinned. He had a salesman’s smile. It made you like him even if you knew it would cost you.

My hunger momentarily forgotten, I followed him away from the waking school, across the grass that was wet enough that we made two trails as we went along. He didn’t look at me as he ambled toward the small cottage, a cottage I’d passed every day, sculling. He pulled off his blazer and swung it over his shoulder. He was wearing four-hundred-dollar handmade shoes from England and they were getting covered in tiny grass clippings and stained with dew as he went. He surveyed the river and the buildings and the road into town and even the mountains beyond the school, inspecting it all as if he owned it. He moved with an easy, sleepy slouch you can’t fake or copy. He was enjoying being at boarding school, enjoying every day of being a champion rower who was well known even in Niccalsetti, New York. Connor would be the first millionaire’s kid I’d ever befriend, and probably the richest person I’d ever know. And the most gifted.

For almost everyone else at Fenton, things were different. After two weeks of confined dorm life you started to think about revolt and mutiny. The school was laid out like a little prison for privileged teenagers, and I don’t think the parents who put up the tuition—a year’s pay on my dad’s work crew if you scored a bonus—knew it. I’d visited the Scadondawa Prison with my father to pick up workers who’d called him when they were paroled because they had nobody else to spend the fifty cents on. He had pointed out its design; even if the whole place burnt you could lock it down and come in on the ground and over the top with riot gear, soften the convicts up for the screws in their white helmets and face masks who would charge in, ready to bust skulls. You could seal us up in Fenton’s dorms and bring down the cream of the east coast within a few minutes. Maybe those three dorms, each with a service road leading right into the quad, were constructed as they were so you could save the kids if there was a fire, but I doubted it. The guys who built those buildings knew who they were dealing with.

All that didn’t apply to the captain of the rowing team. Connor lived by himself in the Rowing Cottage. It was the first house you came to when you rowed down the river from the boathouse, a sentry standing on stilts. With its stern white clapboard siding, its dark shutters and brooding, heavily sloped roof, it looked like an island retirement house for a whaling captain, the kind you find outside of Niccalsetti on Lake Erie, for the wives of customers who sent my father pictures of houses they’d seen in Architectural Digest with three-page spreads and titles like “Hideaway in Martha’s Vineyard” or “Nantucket Dreaming.” My father liked having his crew doing the demolition and grunt work on those houses, houses that were meant to be on the ocean but were instead perched on that frozen lakeshore, built by people rich by Niccalsetti standards but not rich enough to get out. My father never kidded himself about those jobs. Most of what he did would never be featured in a magazine and after we had dug the foundations, or ripped the guts out of some ramshackle heap, another company would come in with its own architect to build somebody’s dream home. He would leave his card, CARREY’S JOINERY, and maybe a few pictures of kitchen cupboards he’d built for the few clients who cared about that kind of work, one of them being my mother. Half the cupboards in those pictures were in our kitchen. He would wait for the call that never came from families who didn’t care about wood, people who wanted brushed-steel kitchen appliances, pre-made fiberglass cupboards and granite counters. Day after day we’d load into the truck and drive to the next subcontracted demolition job or the next gutting. Never to build a kitchen or a bookcase. Still, my father refused to call himself a wrecker, or even a builder. Always a joiner, or a cabinetmaker. And no one he hired or begat ever questioned why.


Copyright © 2013 by Ron Irwin

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