06 March 2013

Flat Water Tuesday

Synopsis from Goodreads: When documentary filmmaker Rob Carrey flies back to New York from a shoot in South Africa to salvage his relationship with his lover Caroline Smythe, he unexpectedly finds himself called back to his former boarding school following a heartbreaking tragedy. Despite having long ago buried the memories of the brutal year he spent at the elite Fenton School in Connecticut as a postgraduate rower, Carrey finds that those days now return to haunt him. The Fenton School Boat Club’s top rowing team, called the God Four, is legendary. But the price that they pay for a shot at glory will scar each member of Carrey’s team far into adulthood.

Colin Payne, the Massachusetts blue-blood; Jumbo, the good natured giant; John Wadsworth the preppy lawyer-to-be; Ruth Anderson, the Yale-bound coxswain; and Rob Carrey, the scholarship athlete from Niccalsetti, New York — all of them are forever bound to one another by the terrible cost of victory. Over one tumultuous week, Rob Carrey will learn that he cannot leave the past in his wake.

Stats for my copy: ARC, St. Martin's Press/Thomas Dunne Books; release date June 4, 2013; won in a Goodreads giveaway.

My thoughts: I have been introduced to a whole new world. I've never given much thought to rowing, competitive or otherwise. But you guys, it's a real Sport, with a capital S! My daughter played soccer in high school, she made the varsity team her freshman year. But she did not put in nearly as much work, pain, suffering, as the kids in this book do. In fact, after reading about our hero's aching knees and blistered hands, I'm wondering if this is a young man's sport? Are these kids broken down and retired by the time they graduate from college?

Our narrator is Rob Carrey, alternating between filling us in on his adult life today, and his life as a student who was given a scholarship to row at the prestigious Fenton boarding school. He'd already completed his senior year of high school, but Fenton offers students an additional year, an extra senior year, and the chance to win the attention of an Ivy League college.

In his adult life, Rob shoots documentary films for National Geographic, traveling all over the world. When the narrative begins, he's learned that one of his classmates has passed away, and he's been invited back to Fenton for a class reunion and a memorial service. At the same time, his relationship with his live in girlfriend has imploded, and upon arriving home from his latest assignment he has to pack up his belongings and move out.

The narrative also often backtracks, to tell us about earlier days in the relationship, and in Rob's life before Fenton, but despite the constant shifts in time the story flows smoothly and seamlessly. In the beginning I was a little overwhelmed with all the unfamiliar boating and rowing terms, which the author uses naturally and matter of factly (is that a word? I think not, but I’m using it anyway) and without condescending to provide definitions or explanations to the reader. And before long the jargon settles into your brain. Although I will admit at one point I stared at the little picture on the front cover for several minutes, wondering how the coxswain can do her job when she's facing the wrong way, before my mind finally realized that the rowers are the ones going backwards. And then I felt stupid, because duh, I have seen people rowing boats before.

The races are tense and vivid and gripping. While much of the narrative meanders along (in a good way), the races rush across the pages, leaving you emotionally drained. The characters are three-dimensional and well written, not just Rob, but the people around him whom he comes to know and understand, or in some cases not really know or understand. It's a gripping look at life and loss, and how your future can be planned out and then change, and you adjust because that's all you can do.

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