THE SILVER BOAT
With twenty best selling novels to her credit, it is not surprising that Luanne Rice knows how to spin a good yarn. But to say no more than that is to damn with faint praise the well-honed skills of a writer whose sense of place rivals that of the best in her trade. In her most recent book, THE SILVER BOAT, Rice brings the landscape of Martha’s Vineyard to life in delightful detail, bringing the reader the scent of the wild roses, the crash of the waves, the song of water birds, the texture of warm sand and the salty tang of sea air.
No less alive are the sisters in her stiory, Dar, Rory and Delia McCarthy, around whom Rice weaves an engaging tale of love, loss and redemption. Gathered for the last time at the home where they spent all their summers–a place of such magic they call it The Other World– they add a huge measure of love to each other’s lives while dealing with unresolved problems that date back to their Irish-born boat builder father whose disappearance still haunts them. Dar, an artist whose graphic novels center on this loss, cannot commit herself to living with the man in her life. Rory cannot let go of her philandering husband. Delia cannot relinquish her role of care giver in order to tend to her own needs.
Rice manipulates with dexterity the complex ties that bind the sisters to each, to their families and the land. She surrounds Dar, Rory and Delia with characters whose quirks and qualities help balance what could easily become a bathetic tale—Pete, Delia’s meth addicted son whose struggles rings true; his father, Jim, who chafes at his Delia’s intense parenting style ; Dar’s admirably supportive lover Andy, and Harrison, an off-the- grid nouveau poor guy whose zaniness is so endearing one wishes rice would devote a whole book to him.
Deciding whether or not to let go of the summer house, the memories and hopes of their youth is a wrenching process for the sisters. Coping with the realities of overdue taxes, trying to find out their reasons for their father’s desertion, struggling to keep family ties intact, the most significant aspect of their lives is how they care for each other and for their friends. They cry and laugh together, share memorable feasts, travel to their father’s birthplace and back without ever doubting that love is what really counts in the end. Old fashioned as this might seem—there are the faintest faint echoes of Barbara Pym and Rosamonde Pilcher in this story—in an era when so much fiction writers rely on shock value as an attention grabber, there is much to be said about the courage of a writer whose focus is the high quality of her work.
Rice’s graceful storytelling s is not unlike the seemingly effortless performance of a great ballet dancer who gives the impression that defying gravity is supremely easy. Creating credible characters whose dialogue is pitch perfect, placing them in a memorable setting and letting them test the confines of an intriguing plot that is no easy task. Rice pulls it off, making this one of the most enjoyable books I have read in years.