"The spirit of Joseph Conrad . . . haunts Philip Caputo's adventure-filled story." --The New York Times Book Review
"The pages billow and snap with tension." --The Boston Globe
"A sea story in the grand tradition of Conrad and Melville, this shamelessly salty and unbearably exciting novel is a welcome reminder that imagination transports us where facts cannot, that adventure created by a master storyteller can make reality seem tame." --Daily News
"A high seas classic combined with a mystery." --San Francisco Chronicle
This is a tremendous novelin its description of natural forces, its delineation of character, its tension and release. In 1901 Cyrus Braithwaite sends his three teenage sons on a summer-long voyage on their own, with no instructions other than not to return to their home in Maine until September. The bulk of the plot is made up of their adventures down the eastern coast of the U.S. along the Florida Keys, and in a highlight of the story, to Cuba in the throes of a monstrous hurricane. Interwoven with this adventure plot aboard the 46-foot sloop is the family drama behind the voyage: Why has the fatherhard-bitten Puritan though he may bethrust so heavy a weight on such young shoulders? We learn pieces of the puzzle through the sometimes irritating, though ultimately satisfying, device of a great-granddaughter's trying to uncover the family mystery in the 1990s. Philip Caputo, author of the war novels A Rumor of War and Horn of Africa, combines exact, mesmerizing physical description with sharp, often amusing insight into his male characters. The novel is long, a loquacious kind of yarn-spinning in places, but its rich picture of life aboard the small boat and the natural and human forces the boys must contend with provides constant surprises, suspense, and pleasure. KLIATT Codes: SA*Exceptional book, recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 1999, Random House/Vintage, 415p, 21cm, 99-23568, $14.00. Ages 16 to adult. Reviewer: Michael P. Healy; English Teacher, Wood River H.S., Hailey, ID, May 2001 (Vol. 35 No. 3)
Caputo, author of the Vietnam classic Rumors of War, has crafted a compelling novel that offers both rousing adventure and penetrating insight into the mystery that is family. At the turn of the 19th century, a flinty New Englander suddenly orders his three sons, the oldest of whom is 16, to sail away from the Maine coast and stay away until September. "Where are we supposed to go?" they ask. "Don't much care," he answers. So off they sail to face the series of adventures that make up most of the book, all the while trying to understand their seeming abandonment. Their story is reconstructed by one son's granddaughter, herself haunted by the mystery. Determined to unravel the secret behind her great-grandfather's behavior, she is able to put together major pieces of the puzzle using both hard facts and a lot of imagination, which "is not an unreliable sextant, if you're trying to get a fix on the truth." That, of course, is exactly what all good novels do. This book should appeal to a wide audience, including older teenagers. Highly recommended for all public and most academic libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 7/99.]--David W. Henderson, Eckerd Coll. Lib., St. Petersburg, FL Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Philip Caputo's latest work of fiction is not easy to categorize. On its face a nautical adventure set in the opening years of this century, The Voyage is also a historical detective story and an exploration of the recesses of the New England soul. However you approach it, The Voyage is compulsively readable.
Cyrus Braithwaite, successful quarry owner and former wrecking skipper, is a hard, quick-tempered man of such ferocity that when he orders his three teenage sons to sail his schooner yacht, Double Eagle, out of Maine's Penobscot Bay and not return for three months, they meekly obey. The trio - Nat, Eliot, and Drew - are experienced sailors for their years, but their knowledge of the wicked world is limited indeed. Their mentor on the voyage, Will Terhune, is only a few years older than they, but he considers himself a hardened roué; more important, he supplies the navigational know-how the boys lack.
And they do need a navigator: Nat, appointed skipper by his father, conceives the notion of sailing Double Eagle the entire length of the East Coast, from Maine's islands to Key West. There they plan to find the unsalvaged boat whose loss drove Cyrus out of the wrecking business. Part of Nat's notion is pure dime-novel romanticism (he's an avid fan), part a desire to show up his flinty father.
When their voyage begins it's almost a Frank Merriwell adventure, though already there are hints of something very wrong behind the family scenes.
Suddenly the reader is transported to the present, and the story is briefly taken over by Sybil Braithwaite, the boys' direct descendant, who has become fascinated by the outrageous Double Eagle episode. She probes the story with the grudging aid of her elderly cousin Myles, self-appointed custodian of the family's history.
We have moved, it seems, into Brontë country, but only for a little while. After a few curiosity-whetting pages, the focus switches back to Double Eagle, whose coastal route takes the boys to Manhattan, where they attempt to find their half-brother, Lockwood. The son of Cyrus's mysterious first marriage, Lockwood has left home, failed as an entrepreneur - and now inhabits a squalid room in Manhattan's seedy shipping district.
But Lockwood is missing, and so the four musketeers sail on, to be caught in a near-hurricane off the Carolinas. Double Eagle finds shelter behind the barrier islands, and the boys, nearly broke, descend on Beaufort, their mother's hometown. It is there that an aged aunt inadvertently reveals to the reader - if not quite to the boys themselves - that there is something peculiar about the mother's family history, too.
In fact, even though Caputo's wonderfully told sea story diverts our attention, we've begun to realize that the boys' Old Testament-quoting father and their fluttery Southern belle mother are equally expert at repressing or twisting the truths about themselves.
In Key West at last, the boys hunt up one of their father's divers, who reluctantly agrees to take them out to the unsalvaged wreck. Here in the Florida islands, real tragedy strikes - leading to disaster on the shores of Cuba. The brothers telegraph home for help, only to be coldly rebuffed by their father.
It's this last blow that, nearly a century later, turns Sybil Braithwaite's curiosity into obsession. The explanation for all these events lays bare the agonized soul of the Braithwaite family - and may leave us to wonder how many other aristocratic New England clans built their good names upon desperate lies and social conventions.
In The Voyage Caputo combines his skills as a first-rate storyteller, his insights into the darker recesses of the American psyche, and his journalist's training in absorbing the essence of an unfamiliar setting. Sea story, family saga, and parable, it's a splendid piece of work.
Comparisons with Melville and Conrad will occur to readers of this pungent tale of perilous maritime adventurea notable departure for the author of Exiles (1997), etc. But the story is also about family unhappiness, its closest analogues (as the last line implicitly acknowledges) to be found in Faulkner's brooding studies of overweening ambition, pride, miscegenation, and madness. This one begins in June 1901, when Bostonian Cyrus Brathwaite, who's made fortunes salvaging wrecked ships and quarrying granite, banishes his three teenaged sons from their family's Maine seacoast summer home, sending them off alone in a schooner (the Double Eagle) with orders not to return before fall. Stalwart 16-year-old Nathaniel (the image of his idol, Frank Merriwell) and his younger brothers, ironical Eliot and scholarly Dreweventually accompanied by their friend Will Terhunegrudgingly, then stoically, embark on an adventure that takes them to South Carolina (and a tense meeting with their elderly great-aunt), the Tortuga Islands off Key West (to search a sunken ship that's another part of Cyrus's clouded history), and a "monster" hurricane and its aftermath (in Cuba), leaving one of them dead and another effectively unmanned for life, all followed by a bitter return home unaided by their indifferent father. Caputo's very crowded story is "reconstructed," in 1998, by descendant Sybil Brathwaite, who pieces together from the Double Eagle's terse log, from a moribund relative's recollections, and from various family "memorabilia" a carefully concealed history of frustration and deceit involving Cyrus's beautiful, withdrawn wife Elizabeth, the boys' mysterious half-brother, and theiroffended father's quite possibly insane hunger for revenge. Though they're awkwardly compressed into the closing pages' brief compass, these disclosures strike with the force of Jacobean tragedy. The novel isn't especially shapely, but it's been scrupulously researched, strongly imagined, and painstakingly hammered together: those who plunge headlong into its dark waters will not soon forget the experience. (First printing of 40,000; Book-of-the-Month alternate selection)