“We are inching toward the middle of nowhere,” reads an entry in Michael’s log of the cruise of Juliet, a CSY 44 sailboat that is carrying the Partlow family of four through the San Blas Islands of Panama. “Cayos Limones is an untouched archipelago of many sheltered islands w/fringing reefs & clear waters.”
I’m a sucker for a sea story, especially about sailing in a small boat, but despite the promising lines in the log, I was puzzled by Amity Gaige’s Sea Wife—until I discovered that it’s a book about a very unhappy woman and the evolution of a marriage, a story that unfolds aboard a cruising by sailboat. Once the scene was set, I quite enjoyed the book.
Juliet and Michael have two kids, elementary and pre-nursery school age; he works long hours and commutes, and she abandoned a dissertation on confessional poets to make a suburban Connecticut life work. Only it doesn’t. When Michael finds a sailboat for them to go cruising on, she reluctantly agrees.
This is a scenario I can identify with. My husband and I went through difficult times when both our jobs were threatened and our relationship teetering, and we decided to sail around the world in three years and come back to improved conditions all around.
Amity Gaige tells this story through the voices of both Michael and Juliet. Juliet is the narrator, and for Michael, Gaige uses the boat log, which he keeps as a daily journal of his thoughts as well as their progress through the Caribbean Sea, much as I do in my boat logs, though less protractedly. The use of the log is a clue that Michael for some reason is not around at the end to help tell the tale.
Gaige makes no claim to being a sailor, and in some ways she’s the perfect one to write this book; author of three other novels and a creative writing teacher, she grew up in the city. “I am not a sailor, I am afraid of the sea,” she is quoted as saying in an article in Coastal Living. Like her fictional family, she started out with no experience and she got it first by hanging out with a real-life cruising family and ultimately taking a liveaboard cruising course, during which she goes through a severe storm.
The best sea stories include a disaster (which is why I claim not to have any, even after 13 years of cruising) and Sea Wife doesn’t disappoint, though it’s not the disaster one would expect.
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