Benditt’s well-crafted debut ferries readers from Small Island, “a tiny rock at the end of the world,” to the bustling capital of a kingdom referred to only as the Mainland. The novel begins as a wondrously strange, grim portrait of an isolated community, then becomes a leaden allegory about the history of money and the fear of a fast-approaching modernity (a reference to the “humming telegraph wire” suggests the story takes place sometime in the late 19th century, on an alternate version of earth). After a frequently drunken woodworker dreams of a blue wolf that carries him across the ocean on its back, he is inspired to build a boat. The taciturn man sails away from his home, whose inhabitants keep “running accounts stretch back over generations, connecting everyone,” and eventually reaches the Mainland, where he attempts to decipher its more modern economy. There, he finds that the king’s costly modernization program, which is financed by the Jewish House of Lippsted, a Rothschild-like banking empire, has engendered the rise of a messianic group espousing anti-Semitism. The novel credibly depicts the conspiratorial energies let loose in this fictional, debt-ridden kingdom, but it never quite recaptures the spellbinding intensity of the opening section, set on the barren but imaginative Small Island. (Feb.)
"[P]owerful first novel...no matter how unexpected the course of events, each plot twist seems somehow preordained. His sentences accumulate with a calm and unmistakable authority, as if all this has happened before and is just now coming to light."
The New York Times Book Review
"well crafted debut....spellbinding"
"With a political slant and an understanding of religion’s effect on communities, The Boatmaker will appeal to fans of literary novels of self-discovery."
"The Boatmaker is already one of our favorite books of the year: a true odyssey about one man’s complicated journey away from his native island."
Time Out New York
"Benditt’s timely and haunting first novel has the profound impact of a parable."
"John Benditt's debut novel is wholly original. Beautifully written in language as straightforward as that of a parable, The Boatmaker is a complex modern fable about innocence, discovery, loss, and redemption. Its protagonist, an Everyman who is discontent yet uncorrupted, takes us on a journey through cynicism, despair, violence, wonder, and prejudice only to lead us back to a place where we know who we are and why we have reason to dream."
Rachel Urquhart, author of The Visionist
"The Boatmaker is a wonderful novelwonderful as in spectacularly good and wonderful as in full of wonders. There are echoes of our own time and of older times; it is set in a very intelligently imagined country, a mirror of our Western world and its evils and virtues rather than a fantasy land."
John Casey, National Book Award-winning author of Spartina
"John Benditt's The Boatmaker is made of primal stuff: stone and sea, blood and snow, dreams of wolves and men like bears. This is a novel that will anchor you firmly to the earth, close enough to the pulse of the world that you might hear its drumbeat echo on every page."
Matt Bell, author of In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods
"At once a tour de force and a strangely mesmerizing parable, this is a book that you will not put down even when you have finished reading it."
Pam Cady, University of Washington Book Store
An unnamed man leaves the small island where he was born to explore the strange kingdoms beyond his home. It has to be said that a novel about growing up, faith, redemption and religion is something of a diversion for Benditt, the former editor of MIT's Technology Review and one of the better-known science writers in the U.S. The story is a poetic but aimless metaphor for…something, although the book's spare, fable-esque writing often threatens to surpass the messages it tries to deliver. Our nameless hero, known only by the book's title, is first shown on Small Island, an obscure corner of a larger Christian kingdom where, a thousand years ago, a peasant boy converted the king to Christianity. It's only when the boatmaker leaves the island that his personal journey begins. On a larger island, he struggles with drink, has a strangely combative affair with an innkeeper and falls in with a pair of malcontents named Kravenik and Weiss, better known as Crow and White. After his so-called friends assault and rob him, he moves on to the mainland a changed man. There, he falls under the spell of Father Robert, a charismatic and faintly cultlike priest who believes the boatmaker will be the redeemer for "The New Christ." Father Robert is also determined to undermine the House of Lippsted, a Jewish dynasty whose wealth has earned them the power to undermine the king. Running away once more, the boatmaker becomes a carpenter for the House of Lippsted, where he falls under the spell of one of the family's beautiful daughters. Benditt has a unique voice and obviously has something to say about religion, history and manhood, but the novel's abstraction and circularity could well make coming along on the boatmaker's journey feel more like a trek than an arc. A long, fuzzy journey just to learn we can't go home again.