Set against the powerful lakeshore landscape of northern Minnesota, Safe from the Sea is a heartfelt novel in which a son returns home to reconnect with his estranged and dying father thirty-five years after the tragic wreck of a Great Lakes ore boat that the father only partially survived and that has divided them emotionally ever since. When his father for the first time finally tells the story of the horrific disaster he has carried with him so long, it leads the two men to reconsider each other.
Meanwhile, Noah’s own struggle to make a life with an absent father has found its real reward in his relationship with his sagacious wife, Natalie, whose complications with infertility issues have marked her husband’s life in ways he only fully realizes as the reconciliation with his father takes shape.
Peter Geye has delivered an archetypal story of a father and son, of the tug and pull of family bonds, of Norwegian immigrant culture, of dramatic shipwrecks and the business and adventure of Great Lakes shipping in a setting that simply casts a spell over the characters as well as the reader.
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Safe from the Sea
By Peter Geye
UNBRIDLED BOOKSCopyright © 2010 Peter Geye
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThat morning Noah boarded a plane for Duluth. By seven o'clock he was driving a rental car down Mesaba Avenue. Between the intermittent swoosh of the windshield wipers he recognized the city he harbored in his memory. It lay below him smothered in fog, the downtown lights wheezing in mist. Though he could not see the lake in the distance, he knew it rested beyond the pall. Soon he pulled onto Superior Street. The manholes blowing steam might have been freeing ghosts.
It had been his plan to drive up to Misquah, but he'd been delayed during a Minneapolis layover and decided it was too late. Instead he drove onto Lake Avenue, parked, and stepped out into the evening. Now he could see the lake, a dark and undulating line that rolled onto the shore. The concussions were met with a hiss as the water sieved back through the pebbled beach. The fog had a crystalline sharpness, and he could feel on his cheeks the drizzle carried by the wind. It all felt so familiar, and he thought, I resemble this place. And then, My father, he was inhabited by it.
But Duluth had also changed. Where now T-shirt and antique shops kept address, dive bars and pawnshops and shoe-repair shops had once done a dismal business. More than a few of Noah's boyhood friends had ordered their first steins of beer in the slop shops that were now coffeehouses and art galleries. As a kid Noah had seen grown men stumble from doorways, drawing knives as they fell, ready to fight. Now he saw squalling kids and husbands and wives bickering over where to have dinner. The hotels had once offered hourly rates, now half-a-dozen national chains were staked in Canal Park. There were bookshops, ice-cream parlors, wilderness outfitters, toy stores, even a popcorn and cotton-candy cart, all lining the street like a Vermont ski town.
There did remain two stalwarts: the Tallahassee and the Freighter. The former, though it advertised JAZZ! ON SATURDAYS, was a topless bar with filthy taffeta curtains bunched in the windows. The latter was where Noah had ordered his first beer more than twenty years ago. It had also been his father's hideaway of choice. They were next door to each other, laggards from a vanished time.
For all its squalor, the Freighter was a landmark, a bare-knuckle place that had not given way to slumming conventioneers or fraternity brothers down from the colleges. Dark, greasy air thick with smoke and blue neon hung like the fog as Noah stepped in for a draft and something to eat. A gauzy linoleum floor curled up from rotten floorboards, and a cobwebbed fishing net hung from the ceiling. Behind the bar, above the bottles of cheap booze, a series of photographs of ore boats in teakwood frames were nailed into the wall. A few tipplers sat at the bar, and behind the pull-tab counter a silver-haired churchgoer did a crossword puzzle. The sign above her head announced a meat raffle on Wednesdays.
Noah took a seat at the bar and swiveled around. Other than the murmuring of the drinkers and tinkling of pint glasses, the only sound came from an ancient television on the end of the bar broadcasting the local news.
"You look familiar," the barman said, "but you aren't from around here." An old man with a ruddy face and drooping eyes, he looked familiar to Noah, too.
"I haven't been here in years," Noah said. "But my old man used to call this place home."
"Who was your old man?"
"Oh, Christ," the man said, wiping his hands on a rag before reaching under the counter for a bottle of Wiser's. "If you're Torr's boy, this is on me."
Before Noah could decline, two shots of whiskey sat on the bar.
"I can't drink this," Noah said.
The barman drained the shot he'd poured for himself and smacked his lips. "You ain't Torr's boy if that's true." He poured another drink for himself. "Your pop's dead?"
"Jesus, no," Noah said. Then added, "Not yet."
"He still living up around Misquah?"
"Unbelievably, he is."
The barkeeper had not taken his eyes from Noah. He shook his head thoughtfully. "We used to fall on over to the Tallahassee every odd day of the week, your pops and me. Watch them girls shake tail."
"You corrupted him, then."
"Sure, he needed corrupting." His father's old crony sipped the second ounce of Wiser's. "What brings you home?"
"I'm headed up to see him."
"You tell that son of a bitch Mel says hello."
"I'll do that," Noah said.
"You hungry?" Mel asked.
Noah ordered a burger basket and a pint of beer to help with the whiskey.
* * *
The last time he had been in the Freighter was almost six years ago, on the morning after the wedding of a childhood friend. Before heading back to Boston he'd met his father for breakfast. On the mismatched barstools half-a-dozen gray-haired men sat like barnacles. When the door creaked shut behind Noah they turned in unison to sneer at the schoolteacher in pressed khaki trousers standing in the doorway. Olaf stood up, last in line and farthest from the door, looked down at Noah over the top of his glasses, and pulled out the barstool next to his own. "Hello, boy," he said across the room as he pushed two empty Bloody Mary glasses into the bar gutter and crushed out a cigarette. "Come here. Have a seat. What do you know?"
As Noah approached, he took inventory of the old man: A baggy chambray work shirt frayed at the collar and cuffs and a pair of dungarees cinched with a canvas belt brought attention to how thin he had become; his hair and beard were both completely white now and even more unkempt than Noah remembered; his black boots were untied. As Olaf extended his hand, Noah saw evidence of the arthritis his sister had warned him of, but when he took the old man's hand, the strength of the grip surprised him.
Olaf pulled the barstool out further. When Noah sat, his father stepped back, sizing up Noah in his own manner. "Penny loafers, huh?"
Noah shrugged and held his hands up in a gesture of deference.
"What'll you drink?" Olaf said.
"Orange juice. It's ten o'clock in the morning."
"Orange juice for the boy, Mel!"
Whereas the other patrons had newspapers or each other for company, Olaf had been sitting alone, with only his drink before him. When he rejoined Noah at the bar, he resumed the posture of a loner, looking straight ahead at the bar back and rolling another cigarette.
Their talk over the next hour could hardly have passed for conversation. Between bites of runny eggs and greasy hash browns, Olaf asked Noah about his job and his girlfriend. Noah asked after the old man's health and the state of the cabin up on Lake Forsone, where Olaf had recently moved after selling their house on High Street. Olaf drank two more Bloody Marys with Grain Belt snits. Occasionally his voice surged and the other men in the bar set their drinks down to look at him. Everyone knew who he was, of course, and there seemed to be dueling sympathies in their attention. On the one hand, they must have admired his tragedy, and on the other, pitied his churlishness.
In a lull during their breakfast Noah said, "I'm getting married."
"That's what your sister tells me." Olaf shifted his gaze from the bar back to the ceiling and blew a stream of smoke. "Getting hitched," he continued under his breath.
Noah slid his plate forward and swiveled to face his father. "In October. I hope you'll be there."
Instead of answering, Olaf summoned Mel. "The boy's settling down, partner," he announced. "Tying the knot."
"That's the one," Olaf said.
"God help him," Mel replied.
"I'd offer to buy you a drink," Olaf said, turning his attention back to Noah, "but you've already got your juice." Instead he motioned for another Bloody Mary. Mel set about making it. "A slipknot, it's like a noose," Olaf explained. "It's a joke, boy."
"A good one, too."
Noah remembered looking his father in the eye and seeing nothing but a boozy vacancy. The old man's drunkenness had always struck Noah as cumulative. Olaf had not spent nights in the hoosegow, he'd not crashed the family car into light poles or missed mortgage payments because his paycheck had been squandered here at the Freighter. Despite this, the years had surely added up to something, to some soggy history that diminished the old man. Noah had an impulse to scold him but did not. Instead he rose to leave. "I've got a flight," he explained. "I hope you'll make the wedding." He put his hand on his father's shoulder in a gesture that should have been reversed. "Take care of yourself, okay?"
Olaf looked again over the top of his glasses. "I'll see you in October."
"You ready for another beer?" The bartender's voice came as if from that morning years ago. He cleared the empty basket, took measure of Noah's shot glass on the bar.
"I swear, if you weren't the spitting image of that old cuss, I'd suspect you of lying." He pointed at the whiskey.
"Sorry," Noah said. "I appreciate the thought. I've just never been able to stomach the stuff."
"No harm," he said, then placed the tab on the bar.
"Are there any boats tonight?" Noah asked.
Mel looked at the clock on the wall. "Erindring's outbound in an hour. Load of coal for the good people of Stockholm."
Noah laid payment on the tab. "Does he ever come down here anymore? You ever see him?"
"Your old man? Nah. I haven't seen him in what, five years? Maybe longer."
"I'll tell him you said hello. Thanks for everything."
"Anytime, now. Good-night."
AT the breakwater he listened to the canal water lapping against the wall. Herring gulls squawked and rolled and dove on invisible currents above the aerial bridge. Every couple of minutes one would pull up on the breakwater and hop toward Noah with a cocked head. They appeared famished and well fed at the same time. Their iridescent eyes glistened in the lamplight. He had always loved watching the gulls and thought there was something majestic about them up here, something very different from the scavenger gulls back in Boston. Here the gulls fished first and begged only after the smelt had gone out.
He looked over the breakwater wall, caught his shadowy reflection in the waves, and wondered how many times during the last twenty-four hours he'd tried to remember his father's aged face. Even as Noah had replayed the memories of that morning years ago in the Freighter, he had not quite been able to summon it.
The last of the gulls flew into the harbor, and he turned to head back. A light rain now mixed with the fog, and the temperature seemed to be falling. Not fifty paces to his left the foyer of the maritime museum was still lit. He approached the entrance and saw that it was . open for another half hour. Inside, the split-level entryway was covered with posters and artifacts representing the Great Lakes shipping industry. He took the ramp up, which led into a large room with windows overlooking the canal. But for the person sitting behind the information desk, Noah was alone in the museum.
A crumpled lifeboat hung suspended from the ceiling on the edge of the main room. Next to it one of the anterooms advertised itself as the RAGNAROK EXHIBIT. Noah ventured in. A montage of photographs hung on the wall, and his father's image glared back from two. The first took Noah's breath away. It was an eighteen-by-twelve-inch black-and-white of the crew of the Rag. They huddled dockside in front of the black-hulled freighter during a late-winter snow squall. Taken in March 1967, the day of her first cruise that shipping season, it reminded Noah of countless other departures. Most of the thirty faces in the photograph were blurred in the snow or hidden by the wool collars of the crew's standard-issue peacoats, but the image of his father's gaze—unblemished by the snow and unhidden by his collar—was clear. The placard beside the photo said: THE CREW OF THE ILL-FATED SUPERIOR STEEL SHIP SS RAGNAROK, MARCH 1967. THE SHIP IS AT BERTH AT THE SUPERIOR STEEL DOCKS IN DULUTH HARBOR. THE RAG WOULD FOUNDER IN A GALE OFF ISLE ROYALE EIGHT MONTHS LATER. TWENTY-SEVEN OF HER THIRTY HANDS WERE LOST. It also listed, in parentheses, each of the men, from left to right, front to back.
Noah recognized the second photograph, taken of the three survivors. Luke Lifthrasir lay on a four-handled gurney being carried up the glazed boulder beach, his gauze-wrapped arm raised triumphantly in a frostbitten fist. Two men in Coast Guard uniforms tended to Bjorn Vifte, who sat huddled under a wool blanket. Noah's father sat in the edge of the picture, alone, his shoulders slumped over his knees, the small of his back resting against an ancient cedar tree that grew from a cleft in the bedrock. Blood frozen in parallel lines stained his cheek. In the background, a photographer aimed his camera at the same wrecked lifeboat that hung on display from the ceiling in the next room. The second placard read: THE THREE SURVIVORS OF THE WRECK OF THE SS RAGNAROK, ASHORE AT LAST, HAT POINT, WAUSWAUGONING BAY, LAKE SUPERIOR. NOVEMBER 6TH, 1967.
Noah toured the rest of the museum like a somnambulist. A collection of ship models and more photographs chronicling the nautical history of Lake Superior filled one room. Recovered relics from Great Lake shipwrecks—forks, lanterns, life vests, a teakettle, a sextant, a compass, an oil can, a coal shovel, a brass bell—lined the glass cases that circled another exhibit. A row of small rooms replicated the cabins of different ships, a sort of timeline of living conditions aboard Great Lakes freighters. A steam-turbine tugboat engine, circa 1925, twenty feet tall, rose between the split-level entry. And the museum's centerpiece, a model pilothouse complete with an antique wooden wheel, a chart room, and a brass Chadburn set to full steam, sat in the middle of the main hall.
From behind the wheel Noah looked out onto the lake. Although it was dark, he could see through the bare branches of a maple tree. Beyond the canal breakwaters and the channel lights the lake disappeared into an even deeper darkness. To his left, he knew, the hills stretched above town, shrouded in a chrysalis of late-autumn mizzle. And behind him the aerial bridge loomed like a skeleton.
Back outside, he resumed his spot at the breakwater. He heard the Erindring before he saw it. The ship blasted its horn, giving notice to the bridge-keeper. One long blow, like a cello's moan, followed by two short blows was responded to in kind. The warning arms dropped on either side of the bridge, and it rose. A couple minutes later and the freighter was in full view, pushing through the pewter lake fog and faint harbor lights. It moved slowly, almost imperceptibly, and Noah marveled—as he had maybe a thousand times before—at the original notion of a million pounds of floating steel.
A faint hum accompanied the steaming ship under the bridge as it eased its way through the channel, past Noah, who had walked out to the end of the breakwater. The muted drone and eerie slapping of water against the hull accentuated a silence that seemed to grow as the ship inched its way nearer the end of the pier. When the first quarter of the bow passed, it was quiet enough that he could hear two men standing on the pilothouse deck, speaking a language he didn't recognize. One of the men tossed his cigarette into the lake and nodded at Noah. In another few seconds the stern was even with the end of the breakwater and the hum replaced by water gurgling up from the prop. For five minutes Noah watched the ship until it disappeared into the eventide.
Noah stood at the breakwater thinking of Natalie long after the Erindring, had passed into the darkness. After he had hung up with his father the day before, he sat on the edge of the bed in dumb disbelief. He heard his wife come into the bedroom, and when he looked up she was leaning against the door frame in the oversized Dartmouth sweatshirt she wore around the house.
"Who was that?" she asked.
She stepped fully into the bedroom and stood before Noah. "What's wrong?"
"He's sick." Noah looked back down. "I told him I'd come home."
"Are you sure that's a good idea?"
"No." He stood and put the phone back in the bedside cradle. "It's probably not a very good idea. But why would he call? I have to go, don't I?"
"Noah, you haven't seen him since our wedding." There was a tone of incrimination in her voice.
"He's old, Nat, and this sounded serious."
Excerpted from Safe from the Sea by Peter Geye Copyright © 2010 by Peter Geye. Excerpted by permission of UNBRIDLED BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Noah returns home to take care of his dying father, Olaf. The two have not been close for several years, so Noah is surprised at his father's request. Although the decision to return home is not an easy one and is not a decision his wife Natalie is happy about, he decides to make the trip back to the lakeshore landscape of northern Minnesota. There, the two grapple with their past and what brought them to this place in their lives. Peter Geye's writing is simple and clean. There are no extraneous details to be found. Every word is thoughtfully chosen and blends seamlessly into the story as a whole. The characters are genuine and weathered to a degree, which makes them all the more endearing to the reader. Most of the novel takes place in a cabin on the lake. Surrounded by the chill of winter, you can smell the fire in the wood stove, feel the crispness of the snow beneath their feet. This is one of those novels where the setting certainly adds to the story, but Geye manages to allow it to exist within the background, quietly. It doesn't compete with the rest of the story, and I found that the same can be said for any of the components within this novel. They all mesh beautifully with one another. I really enjoyed Safe from the Sea. I found it to be deeply moving and well told.
This book was our book club selection this month. So glad, as I might not have picked it up on my own. The story is compelling and the characters very real and engaging. I definitely cared about what happened to them, especially the reconciliation between father and son. Geye clearly loves words and uses them to draw his places and people in a very convincing way.
Thirty-five years ago, a tragedy on Lake Superior changed their lives forever, estranging father and son. Now Noah, encouraged by his wife Natalie, is returning to Misquah, Minnesota to see his dad for the first time in what seems like forever. Noah is unsure what type of reception he will receive but expects it will be colder than the winter weather. Instead he is stunned to see how old and sick his father appears. Dying, Olaf who hid what happened on the ore boat three and half decades ago decides it is time to tell his son the truth that has haunted him as one of the few survivors. Safe From The Sea is an engaging character driven saga in which an estranged father and son bond when Olaf tells Noah what happened on that tragic day. The entertaining story line contains other back-stories including Noah's look at his marriage as well as Olaf relating other sea adventures. Although a father and son bonding as adults is not new (see the nonfiction The Bond: Three Young Men Learn to Forgive and Reconnect with Their Fathers by Davis, Jenkins and Hunt, and the fiction Gilead by Marilynne Robinson), Peter Geye provides an enjoyable brisk tale. Harriet Klausner
When Noah travels to Misquah, Minnessota, to see his aging father Olaf, he is not sure what to expect. He certainly didn't expect to see the sick and frail man Olaf has become. But it has been many years since Noah and Olaf have seen each other, and even more years filled with tension between the two. Olaf is one of the few survivors of a horrific shipwreck on Lake Superior, and the ghosts still haunt his every footstep. Knowing the end is near, Olaf wants to finally share with Noah the events of that fateful night, a story Noah has been yearning to hear since it happened. Sharing this and other stories, the ties that bond these two men will become stronger than ever. Safe From the Sea was very beautifully written. That can sound cliche, but when I find myself reading passages form the story aloud, I know the writing has truly captured me. It was a sad and touching book, but some scenes made me laugh out loud, while others were so moving that I had to take a moment away from the pages. The atmosphere is rich with history setting. I would have liked to see more of his wife Natalie, as some of the best parts of the book were when Noah was reflecting back on both the good and not-so-good moments of his marriage. Peter Geye has given me a short read that I enjoyed so much, his next book is sure to be on my list as well.
Well written about an aging father and a somewhat estranged son. Pretty good, set in the Great Lakes.
It's hard to review this book without giving things away -- small things that are best discovered on reading. Safe from the Sea by Peter Geye is a lovely story is a story of a father and son spending time together after an estrangement.It's just this one empty spot. During his visit with his father Noah asks him about the shipwreck that he knows changed his father's life, but also affected his own life in way he never realized until he heard the story from his father.I was prepared to learn that Noah's life was full of angst ridden despair based on his father's real and imagined faults , and delighted to learn that Noah was reasonably happy and well balanced, if as imperfect as an other human being. He may even have had a feeling of superiority about some of his success, mingled with an uncertainty of measuring up in his father's eyes. He's thinking about this during his visit.There are no villains in Safe from the Sea. Even the sea is "just" Lake Superior and nature being nature. If there is anything close to being a villain, it might be drawing conclusions without knowing all the facts, deciding you know all you need to know.The inner story of the shipwreck provides some intense action juxtaposed against the relative quiet, yet often just as emotional, visit between father and son. It both reflects the lives of Noah's family and counters the steady pace and buildup to the climax of the outer story.
Sometimes a book unexpectedly crosses your path and it turns out to be so incredibly fantastic you can't help suggesting it to everyone that you know. This is such a book for me. You like cookbooks? Read this one! You like mysteries? Read this one! You hate to read? Don't care; read this one! And before we go any further, I should say that this is neither a cookbook nor a mystery. There is no food in it, at least not that I recall. And there is no mystery either. You know from the beginning the outcome of the maritime disaster. But the prose and the atmospheric setting and the characters and just everything are so amazingly wrought that I can't stop raving.Noah has been estranged from his father for five years when he gets a taciturn call asking him to come and help his father ready the cabin for the winter, no apology, no bridging of the estrangement, no further information. Somehow he knows that he cannot and should not say no despite the fact that Noah and his wife are trying and not succeeding at having a baby which is casting a shadow over their marriage, a shadow that this seperation might not be able to overcome. And yet Olaf's summons must be heeded.Olaf is dying and while he wants Noah to care for him in his last weeks, he is also looking to atone, not only for being one of only three survivors from the epic shipwreck of the ore freighter Ragnarok, but also for the shipwreck of his life and family. As Noah helps his father shore up the cabin against the heavy, cold northern Minnestoa winter, he also learns the story of the wreck of the Ragnarok, not as the newspapers reported it but from the perspective of his father. And he comes to understand who his father is, the man that he was capable of being, and the reason for the gulf between that idealized, perhaps longed-for father and the actual father of his childhood. Their relationship is gruff and silent and loaded with portents and recrimination and the weeks of shoring up the cabin don't change that. But the depth of emotion and the conflict of father and son is riveting throughout the surreal narration.Geye's writing in this first novel is superb and even sublime. The inferno raging below the frozen, flexing decks invokes the imagery of Hell and the forsaken, an apt allegory for Olaf's life. It is an exquisite and terrifying picture of the wreck which continues wreaking devastation throughout both Olaf and Noah's lives many years after the actual sinking of the ship. The clipped dialogue and the portrayal of the area is spot on, easily evoking the true to life culture and reverence surrounding shipwrecks found throughout the Great Lakes region. Everything about the novel was captivating to me, from the father-son dynamics to the running of the freighters. And the theme of events, certainly catastrophic events but also simple ones, that forever change lives and relationships is monumental and artfully handled. I can't say it enough: read this book and revel in its beauty.
As I opened the first few pages of Safe from the Sea by Peter Geye I could almost feel the chill in the air and smell the scent of the sea. The book opens with a prologue where we are sharing a moment on the midnight watch on the ore boat Ragnarok with the wheelsman and the officer in charge, some 20 nautical miles north of the Keweenaw Peninsula in water a hundred and fifty fathoms deep. There is a quiet to the moment as the captain reflects on the beauty of the sky before them and the birth of his son. There is a sadness to the moment too, as the captain reflects that his son was born just nine days ago, and here he was sailing away... The officer is Olaf, and the son born just nine days ago is Noah. It is their relationship, or lack of relationship, that makes Safe from the Sea such a powerful story. There is a yearning that comes across as Olaf and Noah struggle to reconcile their feelings as Olaf tells his son that he is dying.The story is powerful, and Peter Geye's writing is wonderful, with the emotionally charged dynamics between father and son, Olaf and Noah, subtlety floating off the pages. The story moves along with vignettes of Olaf and Noah in happier times, as Noah is growing up. It's these vignettes that pack a powerful punch as you contrast them against the present day, and wonder how a relationship can just slip away...Part of the story in Safe from the Sea deals with Olaf sharing with Noah what actually happened on the Ragnark. When Olaf recounts the terrible wreck of the Ragnark, the ore boat Olaf was officer on, not only was Noah on the edge of his seat listening, so was I! What fantastic storytelling! You almost feel as though you are in that terrible storm, aboard the Ragnark. And that's one of the gifts of Peter Geye's writing- he can paint such meaningful images & feelings with his words.Take a journey with a father and son as they discover if they have the ability to forgive... in a broken down house deep in the woods... with the memory of the past holding them together. Listen to the story of the shipwreck, the ships that sail the seas, and life onboard a ship... Listen to your heart as Noah also deals with the impending death of his father...I enjoyed Safe from the Sea so much! Beautiful prose and a wonderful story
Minneapolis born Peter Geye paints a clear picture of the Great Lakes shipping industry on the cold Minnesota north shore in his debut novel, Safe from the Sea. You will feel the frigid sea air whip around your ears, taste the smoked salmon, smell the wood smoke as a father and son reunite after thirty-five years of estrangement. Norwegian immigrant, Olaf, doles out his bitterness and guilt about surviving a shipwreck to his son in small doses as they share everyday tasks like splitting wood and fishing.Mr. Geye writes touching descriptions. Well-drawn scenes are Noah¿s discomfiture at following the directions to his father¿s house, the boyhood memories that flood him as he pokes around his father¿s shack and Olaf returning childhood mementos to his children. The lack of cell phone reception at his father¿s home mirrors the strained communication between Noah and his wife, Natalie.More eloquence permeates what is not said than what is. Although the dialogue is somewhat stagnant and slows the plot, certain parts of the narrative are haunting. Noah visits the maritime museum and views the artifacts and photos from the shipwreck around which the secret of the book lies. Particularly unforgettable is the placard beside a photo identifying the thirty shipmates before they sailed. The voices of the twenty-seven men, who lost their lives when the SS Ragmarok foundered in a gale in 1967, echo through the museum. Stormy Lake Superior provides a perfect metaphor for the ravaged lives of the three survivors who vanished when the ship went down.Safe from the Sea is about reminiscence, broken familial relationships and reconciliation.Reviewed by Holly Weiss, author of Crestmont
Peter Geye¿s debut novel is one of the best I¿ve read in a long time. Conflict between father and son is nothing new but the reason behind Geye¿s characters¿ estrangement is heartbreaking and tragic. Noah¿s understanding of his father is rooted in his childhood version. He believes that what he knows of his father from growing up with and without him is the truth. And on the surface it is. But there¿s another side to the story ¿ his father¿s side. Noah and his father give each other a last gift of truth and understanding ¿ the story of before and after the disaster on Lake Superior. In doing so they are both free to move forward.Geye¿s wonderful description of the Lake Superior shore, the ore boat Ragnarøk, and the family cabin pulled me into the novel. He tells a riveting story of not only an epic storm but also of people whose lives were forever changed.
Noah Torr returns to his dying father after years of estrangement. For the first time, Noah is told the whole story of how his father Olaf survived the wreck of a Great Lakes ore boat thirty five years earlier and the truth that has haunted him as one of only three survivors. This begins a reconciliation between the two and, out of this bonding, Noah is able to carry out his father¿s dying wish.The author captures the raw beauty and coldness of a rugged Northern Minnesota winter. While the novel centers around the sinking of the Ragnarok, the real story is Olaf and Noah¿s troubled relationship and how it changed from awkwardness to intimacy.
In that instant he realized ¿ almost as if he¿d always been aware of the fact ¿ that his father¿s story mattered only if Noah could someday tell it himself, to a son or daughter, to another Torr who could keep it alive ¿ here, on a blustery November night ¿ for a third generation. ¿ from Safe From The Sea, page 120 -Thirty-five years after surviving the wreck of his Great Lakes ore boat (the Ragnarok), Olaf Torr is facing his own mortality¿this time from cancer. He contacts his estranged son, Noah, and asks him to come back to Minnesota, to the old cabin in the wilderness where Noah¿s childhood memories lay. Safe From the Sea is the story of a father and son who travel from estrangement towards forgiveness; it is the story of a shipwreck and a man who survived it; but more importantly, it is about family connection and the way stories bind us from one generation to the next.When Noah arrives in the wilds of Minnesota, everything is the same, yet everything has changed. There is a story he wants to hear ¿ that of the wreck of the Raganok, a story which has only been partially exposed in the annals of history, a story about what his father experienced on that cold, icy night back in November of 1967.¿We took a couple more waves before we got on course, but we did manage to get turned around. We were looking at two and a half hours,¿ Olaf mused. ¿Two and a half, maybe three. That¿s nothing. It¿s the amount of time it takes to play a baseball game or drive from Duluth to Misquah. It¿s nothing.¿¿But it was too long,¿ Noah said. ¿ from Safe From the Sea, page 96 -Intertwined in the story of the wreck is Noah¿s history with his father and how that history has impacted his present life. Noah begins to re-examine he and his wife Natalie¿s struggle with infertility and the stress that places on a marriage. As Olaf¿s life winds down, Noah discovers that his and Natalie¿s lives are just beginning.Peter Geye¿s debut novel is stunning and gorgeously written. The story of the Raganok is spell-binding, but it is the moments of introspection which I enjoyed the most. The backdrop of the Minnesota wilderness, the approach of winter, the howling of the wolves across the lake ¿ all of it works to create an unforgettable novel of a father and son who come to recognize that what connects them is stronger than what has divided them.Would it have been better if his father had died on that night all those years ago? Whether this last was said or only thought he did not know, but soberer for it having crossed his mind, he forgave the old man all at once. Forgave him everything. He wondered whether his father would forgive him.In the spirit of being his father¿s son, he walked back up to the cabin in his boots alone. - from Safe From The Sea, page 136 -Taken from an old Norse myth, the name of the ill-fated ore boat the Raganok defines the major theme of the novel ¿ that despite disaster (or maybe because of it) there is hope in the future, that out of tragedy there may be rebirth. It is this idea of redemption and forgiveness which permeates Safe From The Sea.I read much of this book out loud to Kip as we drove across the country together. The poetry of Geye¿s writing, along with the dramatic story of a tragic wreck combined to make this one of the best books I¿ve read this year. Literary fiction lovers who also appreciate great adventure stories will love this novel.Highly recommended.
I could not put this book down. I read it in a twenty four hour time span. It was beautiful!!! Geye painted the scenery so accurately, I felt I was in that cabin in the woods. Lake Superior in all it's splendor came through. The story is so well written, the father and son relationship, the realtionship between Noah and his wife, all so believable and perfect. I was fascinated with the story of the Ragnorak and the shipping life on the Great Lakes. I grew up 20 minutes from Lake Michigan and the lakes hold a spot in my memory. I can't say enough about this book. Great for book clubs.
I loved this book. In fact, I could have given it a positive review after only a couple chapters. At first I thought that maybe it was because I'm from MN and live in Boston. The two locations discussed in the book but, that had very little to do with it. The fact is that this is an exceptionally told story about the power of family. It had me crying more than smiling but it's a story that I will remember for a long, long time.
This book is very well written and i connected with it immediately. I received it as part of the Early Reviewers program and feel like I got an early Christmas gift! It is a beautiful story with realistic characters and well-crafted scenes. This story is the first in a long time where I really saw the environment in my mind's eye and would be able to recognize even incidental characters if I was to meet them on the street. I carried this book with me to a doctor's appointment, new and unread, and found myself growing aggravated at the doctor for interrupting such a good story. I went home and finished the book the same evening. The main storyline is about the relationship of a son and father, estranged for years. The reader is introduced to the unnamed father first when he is young and the captain of a tanker on Lake Superior, full of pride for his work and his newborn son, Noah.Then we are introduced to Noah, now a grown man, embarrassed by his father's alcoholism and living far away in Boston. His father, Olaf Torr, calls and asks him to come back to help him winterize his cabin. Noah reluctantly returns because his father says he is ill. Noah finds this to be true. He also finds that his father is not the man he last saw at his wedding five years prior. The emotional development in the latter stages of Olaf's life in regards to each other, to Noah's mother, and to events in Olaf's past make this story full and rewarding to read.
As a native Minnesota of Scandinavian heritage, I absolutely loved this book. It captured so much of the spirit and struggle of a family. Geye does a great job of setting the scene and creating real dialogue among the central characters. Even if one has not visited Lake Superior, Duluth, or the range, the reader will be captivated and feel the experience.I strongly recommend this book to other readers and will cherish it.
This was a wonderful 'first novel' from a very talented author. It tells the story of a father and son who had been estranged for years but finally get back together at the end of the father's life. The description of the father's seafaring life on the Great Lakes is astonishing and made me want to go see these lakes for myself. They must be beautiful! A sad moving story but also a story that you will remember for a long time. Hope this author has another novel in the making!
Non-spoiler review:When the characters linger long after the last page is read and the book is closed; and the scenes they inhabited flare up days later in a memory that is not your own, you know you've read something important. Safe From the Sea is such a book. Although Geye's writing style seemed a bit cold and stilted to me at the beginning, it warmed up by degrees as the story progressed. It was only later I realized the protagonist, Noah, was also warming up to his inner self and his father along the way. Even the distant-appearing father melted from his own cold and stilted persona into a warm human being as the writing became freer. Whether this was an intentional literary device or not ... it was genius. Geye has the coveted and rare ability to transport the reader to places unfamiliar on many levels and yet make him or her feel at home. I experienced Geye's Minnesota locations as if I'd been seeing them with my own eyes, feeling the cold as well as the emotions. This is Geye's gift. The tale is an honest look into (not about) both an inner and an outer journey. It's also about communal and personal history. There's even an engaging overhanging element of suspense both in the father's and son's stories that keeps the reader turning pages. Writers who love reading and can remember the prologue will be in for a treat when they get to the last page.The only fault I can find, if there is one, is the occasional use of nautical terms which might be completely unfamiliar to anyone not raised around the shipping or boating industry. All in all, a tale well told.
It has been years since Noah had heard from him. And they had not parted that time on the best of terms. But still, when his father Olaf called, saying that he was dying and needed Noah's help, Noah left his Boston home, his business, his less than happy wife and made the long journey to the isolated Minnesota lakeside cabin where his father now lived, to help him.Noah arrives at the cabin, shocked at how bad his father looks. Yes, it seems that they will not have a lot of time to come to some sort of final understanding. In fact, the present days happening in the book takes place in less than two weeks and most of the story does not wander far from the lakeside. But the full story reaches back decades, to 1967, to a terrible November storm on Lake Superior, when Olaf was one of only three survivors of the wreck of the ore ship Ragnarøk.It was an experience that had changed his life and not for the better. To make it simple, let me just say that I loved this book. Looking back at it, there is nothing I did not like about it, nothing lacking, nothing I would change, a book that I thoroughly enjoyed. The characters, the setting, and the story are all excellent. In part, it is a tale about the estrangement of a father and son and their attempt at a reconciliation. But it is also the story of a man, now grown, coming to see that life is a lot more complex, a lot more nuanced, than how he saw things as a hurt child. The author, a Minnesota native, creates a wonderful setting for the story, from the city of Duluth, to stormy and dangerous Lake Superior in the midst of a terrible storm, to the rustic, cold and snowy lakeside cabin where the two men play out their last days together as winter approaches. It is a story about guilt and regret and failure, but ultimately about forgiveness and understanding and the strength of love, even an imperfectly expressed love. The characters are real and believable, and even with their flaws, very likable. The ending is sad (yes, it brought a tear to my eye) yet sweet and hopeful.Peter Geye, in this, his first novel, has created a moving, beautiful and haunting story, one that I totally recommend for your reading.
The Short of It:A quiet, simple story about a father and a son. Told in simple, but beautiful prose, Safe from the Sea reminds you what it feels like to read a really good book.The Rest of It:Noah returns home to take care of his dying father, Olaf. The two have not been close for several years, so Noah is surprised at his father¿s request. Although the decision to return home is not an easy one and is not a decision his wife Natalie is happy about, he decides to make the trip back to the lakeshore landscape of northern Minnesota. There, the two grapple with their past and what brought them to this place in their lives.Peter Geye¿s writing is simple and clean. There are no extraneous details to be found. Every word is thoughtfully chosen and blends seamlessly into the story as a whole. The characters are genuine and weathered to a degree, which makes them all the more endearing to the reader.Most of the novel takes place in a cabin on the lake. Surrounded by the chill of winter, you can smell the fire in the wood stove, feel the crispness of the snow beneath their feet. This is one of those novels where the setting certainly adds to the story, but Geye manages to allow it to exist within the background, quietly. It doesn¿t compete with the rest of the story, and I found that the same can be said for any of the components within this novel. They all mesh beautifully with one another.I really enjoyed Safe from the Sea. I found it to be deeply moving and well told.
When Noah and his sister were young children their lives were forever changed when their father¿s ore ship burned and sunk in the tormented waters of Lake Superior. Though their father survived, much of him was left behind when the ship went down, and Noah¿s relationship with his father would never be the same. Decades later, when Noah is grown man with a wife living in Boston, his father becomes ill and Noah faces a tough choice: should he go to his father¿s side? The man who shut him out and all but left him so many years ago? Journeying to the northern Minnesota town of his youth, Noah faces more than just his father when he arrives. History comes back as Noah confronts the man who changed so many years ago.Safe from the Sea is heartbreaking and sad, but also cathartic. Noah must deal with many issues by choosing to face his father again: guilt, blame, and a deeply rooted anger. The bond of family, for better or worse, makes us who we are, and Noah is the man he is today because of his relationship with his father. This is the story of a man facing his past, for both Noah and his father.It¿s hard for me to review this novel because I¿m torn in two directions. First is my loyalty to my own past, which also came from Minnesota. Geye¿s writing of the north and the harsh winters carries true emotional weight. Likewise, my whole family is also in Minnesota, while I am also in Boston, much like Noah and his family are parted. Though I didn¿t leave under the same circumstances and return often, the bond Noah has to Minnesota touched my heart.The other direction I am pulled in is that of a reviewer analyzing a novel. It¿s not because this is Geye¿s first novel that I feel why I do, because I read many first novels, but the writing of Safe from the Sea didn¿t grab me the way I wish it had. The topics did, the scenes and places, but the dialogue felt forced, and parts of Noah¿s relationship with his father and wife seemed contrived. Here is a situation where a man is facing the person who destroyed him and tore him apart. I see the word ¿anger¿ but I do not feel it. I see a scene of ¿longing¿ and ¿regret¿ but do not feel those sensations. There was more true emotion in the description of snow and ice than in the setup of Noah and his relationships, and that¿s the one fallback of the book.
From my book review blog Rundpinne.......An astonishingly moving debut novel, Safe from the Sea by Peter Geye explores the relationship between father and son. Geye describes Lake Superior as well as the surrounding areas in astonishingly beautiful and vivid detail. Geye writes of Norwegian immigrant Olaf Torr, one of only a few survivors of the sinking of the Ragnarok, an iron ore boat off the shores of Lake Superior. This event was a catalyst forever altering the lives of Olaf and his children Solveig and Noah. As Noah heads to the cabin where his estranged father is dying, he worries about the past as well as the present and future with his wife Natalie. Safe From the Sea, while a relatively short book, is rich in deep issues, giving the reader pause to contemplate each decision, indecision and the ramifications of action or inaction. Covering some very intense topics, Geye guides the reader through serene Northern Minnesota, taking me back to my childhood summers spent there. Safe from the Sea is filled with intense emotions and these are often described through scenes and descriptions. Sometimes there just are no words to adequately suffice, other times, especially with Noah, his short clipped statements speak volumes. Hailing from Minnesota, I do not know of many older than myself who do not speak in the manner of Olaf, so it was a comfort to me and brought me back home. Time flew by as I read Geye¿s debut novel and I believe he is definitely an author to be watching for more great works. I highly recommend Safe from the Sea to all readers. 2010 JH/Rundpinne
Your detailed writing made me feel like I was back in Duluth where I took nurses training even though names were changed....looking forward to more of your writings. Thank you Shirley DeVinney
Evocative, beautifully written tale of a father and son and a shipwreck on Lake Superior.