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[356] Safe from the Sea – Peter Geye

” Something enduring had been built during the past week between him and his father. He could not name it, he only knew that it gave him permission to live the rest of his life. That was it, that huge, teetering part of him that for years had been resting on his resentment had been replaced by the whole story, bitterroot and all. ” [10:193]

Set against the dramatic, sometimes turbulent Northern Minnesota lakeshore, Safe from the Sea examines the effects of a person vanishing from his loved ones’ lives and the ripples it causes in their character. Out of filial obligation, Noah returns home to reconnect with and take care of his estranged, dying father, Olaf. Time is bad since his wife, Natalie, is overwhelmed by sadness of infertility and its complications. For thirty years, Noah has accepted his (now deceased) mother’s indiscretion as the solace in her lonely days, when his father is out captaining ore boats. When Olaf finally tells the full story of the night his ship went under, with all the tragic nuances, Noah’s deception of his mother is replaced with the shameful recognition that there exists another side of the story.

As he ate he realized that his unease was easily enough explained. The anger and resentment and sadness that had colored the years of their estrangement were absent now. Not just absent but erroneous. What he’d mistaken for feelings of guilt at being in town were actually feelings of longing. [10:193]

Geye has written a story suffused with a son’s love and by the rough storms of a sailing father’s affection and absence. Olaf, out of pure luck, was one of the few survivors of the wreck. So shorts of odds that he was, he survived the inferno blaze in the engine room below the deck, the snow squall, and the turbulent sea, but he has been walloped in his scruple for not capable of saving his crewmates. Olaf’s story, to Noah’s utter consternation, as he has maintained such intense resentment toward his father, is much more than that of the sinking. It’s about how surviving can affect a man in ways he never anticipated or knows how to explain.

When you get to be as old as me, and when you look back on your life, it’s impossible not to regret every other step you took. I do anyway. But you also get to see the wonderful things. [8:166]

Small in scope but substantial in meaning, Safe from the Sea is not an action-driven plot but a slow realization. A slow realization on how he fails to be better, on the part of the father; and a slow realization on how the son has misunderstood his father’s love. The book is an intimate and believable account of a reconciliation between father and son, tender and deeply moving but not sentimental. The restrained dialogue between the two uneasy men renders the magnitudes of their despair and endurance. Most importantly, Noah’s own struggle to establish life as an adult has found its real meaning in his relationship with his wife, whose struggle with infertility can only be overcome, emotionally, as Noah reconciles with his father. This is a well-crafted novel redolent with the idea of redemption and forgiving.

244 pp. Hardcover. [Read/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]

11 Responses

  1. Excellent review Matt. This one has been so well-reviewed as a subtle but impactful read. I’m hoping that it will throw itself in my path at some point.

    • It’s a very subtle portrait of father and son’s relationship, and how they come to terms with one another toward the end of the father’s life. It’s deeply moving and, like you said, impactful.

  2. I’m very interested in reading this one and one of the main reasons is because it’s a story of a father and son…with forgiveness and redemption as the focal point..sounds wonderfully moving!

    • It’s deeply touching novel of a son who grew up without his father’s presence, let alone mentoring; and equally as intense is the burden of a sinking accident the father has to carry all his life.

  3. I’ve wanted to read this one ever since I read a review on it a few weeks ago. It takes place in the area I was born and I love father/son novels. Thanks so much for the much needed push to go get this one.

  4. I loved this book…something about it just struck a note in my heart.

    • This book, with the recount of the sinking accident, the reconciliation of father and son, stays with me for a very long time after I turned the last pages.

  5. […] by Elliot Perlman. Acquired at the library weekly step-sale. What was the last book you cried over? Safe from the Sea by Peter Geye. Thanks to the Independent Literary Award. What was the last book you disliked and […]

  6. […] recently read but often slipped out of my mind is Safe from the Sea by Peter Geye. I remember it as a father-and-son story, how they break the ice of misunderstanding […]

  7. […] Safe from the Sea Peter Geye I read this book for Independent Literary Award. Set against the dramatic, sometimes turbulent Northern Minnesota lakeshore, the debut novel examines the effects of a person vanishing from his loved ones’ lives and the ripples it causes in their character. It’s the best father-and-son book I have read. […]

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