Noah has been estranged from his father for five years when he gets a taciturn call asking him to come and help his father ready the cabin for the winter, no apology, no bridging of the estrangement, no further information. Somehow he knows that he cannot and should not say no despite the fact that Noah and his wife are trying and not succeeding at having a baby which is casting a shadow over their marriage, a shadow that this seperation might not be able to overcome. And yet Olaf's summons must be heeded.
Olaf is dying and while he wants Noah to care for him in his last weeks, he is also looking to atone, not only for being one of only three survivors from the epic shipwreck of the ore freighter Ragnarok, but also for the shipwreck of his life and family. As Noah helps his father shore up the cabin against the heavy, cold northern Minnestoa winter, he also learns the story of the wreck of the Ragnarok, not as the newspapers reported it but from the perspective of his father. And he comes to understand who his father is, the man that he was capable of being, and the reason for the gulf between that idealized, perhaps longed-for father and the actual father of his childhood. Their relationship is gruff and silent and loaded with portents and recrimination and the weeks of shoring up the cabin don't change that. But the depth of emotion and the conflict of father and son is riveting throughout the surreal narration.
Geye's writing in this first novel is superb and even sublime. The inferno raging below the frozen, flexing decks invokes the imagery of Hell and the forsaken, an apt allegory for Olaf's life. It is an exquisite and terrifying picture of the wreck which continues wreaking devastation throughout both Olaf and Noah's lives many years after the actual sinking of the ship. The clipped dialogue and the portrayal of the area is spot on, easily evoking the true to life culture and reverence surrounding shipwrecks found throughout the Great Lakes region. Everything about the novel was captivating to me, from the father-son dynamics to the running of the freighters. And the theme of events, certainly catastrophic events but also simple ones, that forever change lives and relationships is monumental and artfully handled. I can't say it enough: read this book and revel in its beauty.
Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book for review.