Sunday, January 30, 2011

Safe From the Sea by Peter Geye

Safe from the SeaTitle: Safe From the Sea
Author: Peter Geye
Pages: 256
Published: 2010 Unbridled
Read For: Indie Lit Awards
My Rating: 5 stars

The premise is fairly simple.  An estranged father and son attempt to reconnect. The final product, however, has much more depth and complexity.  It begins when Olaf telephones his son Noah, seemingly out of the blue, after years without any communication whatsoever, and asks him to come to his lakeside cabin in cold Minnesota.  Noah does, in spite of infertility issues he and his wife are in the middle of dealing with, realizing that his father must be quite ill.  Hearing Olaf relate a traumatic, life-changing experience aboard the Ragnarok, the ore ship he worked on, was fascinating--even for a devoted sea-hater such as myself--and did much to help Noah understand his father's perpetual aloofness.

The writing, also, is very clean and uncluttered.  A palpable setting and surprising depth of feeling is spun from almost an almost sparse structure.  Even a full paragraph dedicated to description didn't feel flowery or overdone.  It was just the right balance: enough to spur your imagination and no more.  This paragraph about Noah's observation of his dad's truck is about as descriptive and detailed as it gets:
The truck smelled of cigars, and the inside of the windows dripped with condensation.  The plastic upholstery covering the enormous front seat was split and cracked from corner to corner, and mustard-colored foam padding burst through the tear.  A speedometer, fuel gauge, and heater control sat derelict on the dashboard, and beneath it, where a radio should have been, three wires dangled, clipped, with copper frizz flowering from each.
As for the characters, at first they seemed a little flat and unimpressive, (or in the case of Noah's wife, Natalie, downright irritating,) but like any new people you meet, you learn their complexities over time.  It was refreshing to spend some time with mature characters, people that have some sense of respect and willingness to change and grow.  Even the minor characters had depth.  Gordy, the piano tuner; Mel, the bartender; Knut, the hardware store owner.

I found myself racing through this book, couldn't put it down, really.  At one point I felt bad that I wasn't taking enough time to savor the writing, but quickly decided that a book such as this was worthy of a reread.  It really isn't often that you find a book with an engaging plot that also has so many other things going for it: real characters, vivid setting, lovely writing, complex themes.  Safe From the Sea is so well balanced that it will appeal to a wide range of readers.  It is one of those rare treats that made me sigh with satisfaction when it was over, ready to turn back to page one and start all over again.  This is why I read.


  1. This sounds really good! I think I'll have to add this to my To-Read.
    I'm sure you caught the reference to the Biblical flood in Noah's name. Did you catch the meaning of the ships' name?

    Ragnarok: "In Norse mythology, Ragnarök (Old Norse "final destiny of the gods") is a series of future events, including a great battle foretold to ultimately result in the death of a number of major figures (including the gods Odin, Thor, Týr, Freyr, Heimdallr, and Loki), the occurrence of various natural disasters, and the subsequent submersion of the world in water. Afterward, the world will resurface anew and fertile, the surviving and reborn gods will meet, and the world will be repopulated by two human survivors." (from Wikipedia)

    Clearly the author put some thought into this. And you say the characters are realistic too? I'm in love. It's so hard to find a book with good characters! When someone says "This is why I read" about a book, I know that's something I need to pick up. Thanks for the review.

    -Emily @ Reading While Female

  2. Oh, I'd forgotten about Gordy! I really liked him, and the scene with him playing the piano was very touching.

  3. I really liked Gordy too, what a neat person to happen to meet.

    You know, Emily, the music that Gordy played was by Grieg, a Norwegian composer. The setting, being a place where many Norwegians settled, worked together with a lot of the names in the book, but both of those were tied into the story--the tragedy of the Ragnarok ship relates to the Norse myth, as did the role of water and the subsequent outcome. Really beautiful.

  4. Your review has convinced me, this one has gone on my wishlist.

  5. I loved this one too, as you know! One of my favorite reads in recent memory. So beautiful and unforgettable.

  6. Hmm, for once I'm clearly in the minority on this book. Though I'm happy for the author and happy for his publisher, Unbridled, I thought it was trite and predictable, albeit with lovely writing. I couldn't even get through it. I'm glad that you and the Indie Awards have chosen to recognize it, though!

  7. Ah, I'm sorry to hear that! Whether it was timing or taste, it happened to strike me as very real and honest. The characters felt like people instead of characters, and the setting as a real place instead of a stage. The book did start out feeling somewhat simple and unoriginal, but it quickly grew on me.

    I highly value when something is done well yet simply, because I don't think it is an easy feat, and that definitely played into my feelings of the book.


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